It isn’t much of a secret that I am fascinated by the idea of playing card suits. In fact, I’ve previously written an article on the subject. During my research into alternative suits (aside from the French hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs, that is) I became so fascinated with the idea that I created my own set of four additional suits (being represented in a 104-card deck) which were revealed at the end of the aforementioned article. In the time since then, I have become less satisfied with these designs and more capable in my own design skills, which led me to attempt this project again.
The first thing I did was go back to my research, collecting again every attempt at a different set of suits that I had previously looked at. Then I reviewed as much additional information as I could (several comments on my previous post led me down interesting paths, and with the constant exponential increase in data on the internet, there were a myriad of options that had either been created or come to light since my previous search. Links to as many of these as possible will be provided at the end*).
I then created a master document where I cut out all of the various suits I had found and aligned them with all the others for comparison purposes (I also found that, strangely, some designs seem to have been “lifted” from elsewhere, which surprises me, one would think there wouldn’t be money in doing such a thing). I then reviewed the reasons that people had listed for creating each of these additional suits (at least, those that weren’t regional variations from centuries past) and found James Robert Watson’s methodology to be what I would consider the most sound (and his designs, in my opinion, the most successful). I reviewed the elements of the standard French design for the features that made them a cohesive set, and their symbolism. I then attempted to create as many different possible shapes that utilized these features and could be made to symbolize something easily recognizable (and, if possible, similar to those of the regional Spanish, German, or Italian suits).
One of the things that I noted when reviewing the myriad of ways others had attempted this challenge was that the symbols were often either too complicated or attempting to signify something more complicated than the 4 shapes they were meant to harmonize with. Indeed, looking at the 4 suits they don’t have that much in common aside from the “obvious” derivation of the spades and hearts. Perhaps a part of their cohesiveness is familiarity. I don’t have many symbols paired together in my life the way card suits are, but there is something pleasing about the 4 of them arranged in the abstract, even though they range in complexity from two lines to six, and don’t use lines that behave in consistent manners.
Upon studying these details, I laid out several rules for myself in constructing my additional suits:
A symbol must be made of either straight lines or simple curves.
A symbol must be horizontally symmetrical.
It is okay and, at times, preferable to have a symbol be derivative of another symbol.
All symbols must be easily differentiable at a glance without color being a factor.
A symbol may not exceed 7 lines (clubs, the previous highest, have 6).
A symbol must have characteristics such that it can be paired with at least one other suit and fit into a group of 4 suits.
A symbol must be passably recognizable as what it is attempting to symbolize.
A symbol must feel as if it fits with the others.
Admittedly, the last one is a bit subjective. However, during this run, cohesiveness in design was central to what I wanted to achieve. My previous attempt looked like everyone else’s, so I wanted to make something that was my own, that fit.
I sketched a series of designs starting with my previous attempt and working in some of what I have found in my research. I determined that in order to visually fit in, the designs had to represent items that could be considered “timeless”. Modern mechanisms just wouldn’t fit in, and there was a reason things like flowers or swords had been chosen as suits in the past (though often not as stylized).
Beyond those conscious decisions it is difficult to explain how an iterative process creates, so I will simply display the result, laid out in a way that I believe makes its connections to the source material apparent.