Modern Tarot Deck

The Modern Tarot Deck, an adaptation of the Original Rider-Waite tarot deck, was created with functional changes and a minimalist design approach.

Role: Visual Designer

Duration: January 2021 - August 2021

Team: 1 Visual Designer

Client: Rochester Institute of Technology | Thesis

OVERVIEW

I created the Major Arcana, a vital part of a traditional tarot deck, with two designs in mind. Each Major Arcana created was tailored towards the same user group with both ease, learning, and experience in mind.

1. Number System

2. Color System 

3. Planet and Zodiac Symbol System

4. Imagery System

1. NUMBER SYSTEM

The Major Arcana is representative of a major life cycle, with cards numbered from 0 to 21. The numbers displayed on the cards are provided so sequencing and numerology can easily be detected. The Roman Numerals are chosen instead of numbers so that the integrity of the original deck can stay tangible.

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2. COLOR SYSTEM

Color in the Original Rider-Waite is very important in understanding the messages. I translated the messaging from the colors into the black and white images so that there is one element to digest. 

The gold edges add a bit of fun, opulence, and visual interest. I added it to the outer-most edge to mimic the original gold leaf that was used in historical texts to protect the edges of the paper.

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3. PLANET AND ZODIAC
    SYMBOL SYSTEM

The Original Rider-Waite deck does not include the symbols for the planets and zodiacs associated with the Major Arcana. I chose to include the symbols to inform novices of associations, and the seasoned reader has to do less work.

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4. IMAGERY SYSTEM

The images chosen are based on the main message associated with the traditional tarot, iconizing original detailed images. The simplified, black and white, hand-drawn images give a minimalist approach while adding a humanist touch, and simplifies the card reading process. With fewer elements to digest, the reader can draw on the original deck easily along with taking an abstract contextual approach to the read.

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RESEARCH ANALYSIS

  1. Tarot card usage is getting more and more popular. Tarot has had followers since it was first recorded in Italy in the 15th-century, however, there are many arguments that it was originally developed in ancient Egypt. Since the early 1900s, when the Original Rider-Waite deck came out, followers of tarot, along with spirituality and spiritualism, have increased substantially.  Tarot is used on its own, but some are incorporating tarot with more traditional religious practices.
  2. The Original Rider-Waite deck is the most prominent tarot deck in history. Its symbolism, imagery, colors, and meanings have transferred into countless types of decks. It is a system and design language that holds the standard for tarot. When readers have questions about the meanings of modern decks, they always go back to the Original Rider-Waite for guidance and answers.
  3. Most modern decks transform the Orginal Rider-Waite deck meanings. The imagery and design elements that most modern decks use, change the meaning of the messages displayed through the visual design on the Original Rider-Waite. The booklets associated with the decks show their interpretation of the Original Rider-Waite, while keeping some elements intact. The Original Rider-Waite is used as a stepping stone for their interpreted designs and meanings to sit upon.
  4. Race and gender play a huge role in the Original Rider-Waite deck. Many demographics are included in the Original Rider-Waite in order to communicate qualities and attributes associated with them. Society, as well as myself, is sensitive to the implications that stereotypes and prejudice have on both race and gender roles. Modern decks identify the elements of gender as "masculine energy" and "feminine energy". Perhaps there is a better way to describe masculinity and feminity without the use of a male or female body.
  5. Planets and zodiac signs are important for digging into the meaning of the cards. The ruling planets and associated zodiacs for the cards can tell the reader a plethora of information about the person being read, especially if the reader has knowledge about their birth chart. With this information, a reader can use astrology along with basic understandings of impacts from the stars and planets.
  6. Numerology is a prominent factor in reading the cards. There are obvious numbers that are associated with cards, for example, the Roman numerals placed on the Major Arcana, and the number within each Minor Arcana suit like "Three of Pentacles". There are also other numbers taken into account, like the points of the star on The Star card, and the number of people in The Lovers card. It is impossible to read tarot without the use of numbers and numerology.

 

PROBLEM

Existing modern adaptations of the Original Rider-Waite deck have not addressed race and gender perspectives native to the original deck. 

TARGET USERS

The target users range from novices to professional tarot readers, ages 16+, who are interested and willing in learning traditional tarot practices.

GOAL

The goal was to simplify and modernize while keeping the Original Rider-Waite's integrity intact as much as possible.

Display images that portray masculine and feminine energies without the use of the male or female body as representation.

Do not have a prominent race or a race that can be depicted interpreted as lesser.

STRATEGY

I found that I needed the most important systems and messages derived from the Original Rider-Waite deck, delivered cleanly and functionally with no-nonsense. My strategy was to translate the meanings of the cards into imagery that negated gender and race and also take into account what the user group needs to read tarot in the modern day with the standards of the Original Rider-Waite.

OPTION A:
MORE HAND HOLDING

1. Arabic Numerals
The Arabic Numerals remove the difficulty of reading Roman Numerals.

2. Purple, Gold, Black, and White
The purple indicates grouping within the deck.

3. Planet and Zodiac Symbols
The symbols are available to learn. The names provide training wheels for memorizing the symbols.

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OPTION B:
CLEANER, BUT HARDER

1. Roman Numerals
The Roman Numerals are copied directly from the Original Rider-Waite deck.

2. Gold, Black, and White
Colors for a clean, simple, and modern look.

3. Planet and Zodiac Symbols
The symbols are provided with the intention of memorization.

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I chose Option B. It holds the integrity of the Original Rider-Waite better than option A, while still providing help for memorization, learning, and ease of use.

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CHALLENGES

  1. A major challenge I had was deciding whether to choose an approach that was more towards traditionalism or what was on-trend. I had to find a balance so that the design was true to my intentions and goals, but was also desirable for my user group and the modern world.

  2. I was challenged to think of imagery that was not only relatable to my own interpretation of the original deck, but to everyone. I needed to choose things that could be interpreted effectively by people from all walks of life. This was hard because I was forced to look outside of my own culturally informed perspective. 

INSIGHTS

  1. I don't think that most tarot readers realize how important gender is in understanding the meanings of the cards, and that a lot of progressive readers have been perpetuating stigma through the use of traditional gender roles within the tarot.

  2. I created a deck that promotes learning with guides that look like design features instead of training wheels.

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