Interview with Debbie Millman on her Limited Edition DeckStarter Deck

by Jessica Deseo on 06/04/2014 | 6 Minute Read


“This is my favorite project I’ve ever worked on.”- Debbie Millman

"Play me, bluff me, beat me, tease me, but please oh please, let me win.”These limited edition playing cards designed by Debbie Millman exhibit the poetic beauty of her bold and experimental hand-set typography.

Taking on every card as an empty canvas, Debbie Millman created 54 intimate works of art. Collectively, they’re a masterpiece that speaks to our personal longing for beauty, honesty and playfulness. The initial concept of this deck of playing cards was born years ago when Debbie saw an architect’s design for a deck of playing cards. She loved the idea, and had dreamed of creating one of her own ever since. When we presented her with the opportunity to realize her dream, she in turn helped us realize our own dream of someday collaborating on a project with her.

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Would you please introduce yourself to our readers?Maybe a little about yourself, your background andwhat you do?

My name is Debbie Millman and I am President of Sterling Brands, Chair of the Masters in Branding program at the School of Visual Arts, Host of the podcast "Design Matters," contributing editor at Print Magazine, and author of six books on design and branding

What is your favorite card game?


If you could sit down at a card table with 3 other people to play blackjack with, who would those three people be and why?

Albert Einstein, because (of course) he must have been able to count cards, and how incredible would it have been to learn how to count cards from ALBERT EINSTEIN?

Ernest Hemingway, because he just had to have been a killer card player.

Venessa Selbst, because she is the best female poker player EVER (and she has awesome hair).

Can you tell us about the moment when you were first drawn to the idea of designing a deck of cards?

I have always dreamed of designing a deck of cards--it really has been a fantasy of mine for, like, ever. When Andrew Gibbs asked me if I would be interested in designing a deck for Deckstarter, I thought I had won the Lotto.  It was (and has been) a dream come true.

For the design of the cards, you took on an interesting approach, one we’ve never seen anything like before. What inspired you to lay out each card by hand, and what was your process?

I wanted to create the best deck I possibly could. That meant that everything needed to be made by hand, that each card (including the jokers) had to be an original piece of art, and that no two cards could be identical.

It seems like these cards could be an extension of the illustrated essays in your book, Self Portrait as Your Traitor. With so much personality, we imagine these cards have a lot of meaning to you and maybe tell a story. Are we on to something?

YES! I did want to tell a story. I wanted anyone encountering this deck to really SEE each card. The personalities of each card are inherent--they've been like this for eons. They are cliches, archetypes and icons all at the same time. I wanted to redress the iconography, create new nuance and to give the cards a new identity.

What is it about pi?

Pi is the greatest number in the universe, and the most mysterious. It is infinite in length and infinitely interesting. I am obsessed with it and wanted it to play some part in the design of the Magic Pack.

Given you had complete creative freedom to do anything you wanted with this deck of cards, would you call it an object of design or a piece of art? What do you want people to take away from it?

I would call this a deck of cards that is lovingly, respectfully and deliberately designed. I want people to take only joy away from the experience of it. Oh, and maybe a laugh or two, you BMOC. : )

What did you get out of working on this project?

I got several things working on this project, in no particular order: a great deal of inspiration, a few paper cuts, a slew of card decks with (now) missing cards, a tremendously fulfilling experience, a few moments of despair (PESKY JOKERS), and some spectacular Saturday nights.

What does the phrase, “Play me, bluff me, beat me, tease me, but please oh please, let me win.”, which you used on the back of the cards, mean to you? Is it necessary to win?

It means whatever you want it to mean. And yes, it is necessary to win. At all costs. Very, very necessary. :)

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