Designers: Traction Explains Process Behind Upcoming Bicycle Sideshow Freaks Deck

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Designers: Traction Explains Process Behind Upcoming Bicycle Sideshow Freaks Deck

In order to provide the very best for our readers, approached Traction, a Cincinnati based design firm, a few weeks ago with a request for a guest post about their work with The United States Playing Card Company. Traction agreed and we mapped out possible post ideas. Since USPCC is releasing the Sideshow Freaks Deck on July 1st, both of us agreed that a process piece explaining the design would be a good post to feature. Katherine Monasterio, a writer at Traction, wrote the following post with direct quotes from the Traction designers regarding their thoughts behind the design of the Sideshow Freaks Deck. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the design process of an actual deck designed exclusively for USPCC!

Traction is but one member of the legion of design firms behind the quality work you see from the United States Playing Card Company. You've already seen cover our Speakeasy Deck, but today we wanted to show off another of our recent designs: the Sideshow Freaks Deck.

Picture it: Peanuts and popcorn. Bold yellow and red stripes everywhere you look. String lights guiding you through grass-carpeted avenues between tents. We wanted to recreate the feel of an old carnival full of classic characters like fire eaters, the bearded lady, sword swallowers, and more, so that's exactly what we did with the Sideshow Freaks deck. What does this process look like? We'll walk you through it.

Step One: Figure out who's on the face cards. With our theme in mind and card back ideas already flowing, we wanted to secure our cast of characters for the face cards. "I knew right away I wanted to keep the classic card illustration style," says Emily Webb, who designed and illustrated most of the face cards. "So that meant taking the Standard Deck faces and poses, and combining them with freakshow characters. It was like a puzzle, trying to figure out how they'd all symmetrically fit. That was definitely the hardest part."

Pictured here are a few candidates for jokers and card back characters:

Final Joker and face cards:

Close-up of the Queen of Diamonds aka The Bearded Lady:

Step Two: Hammer out the back design. Ronny Young, illustrator and videographer, designed and executed the card back based on Emily's face cards. He wanted to include some of the prominent characters, but also add a few surprises. “There are loads of hidden elements in the card back,” says Ronny. “At the top and bottom, the fangs and mouths of the snakes create an elephant shape. At the sides, the snakes—and the eyeball shape of the strongman in the middle of the deck—create an ‘808’ motif.” The placement of the characters, the tension of the tall man crushed into the space, and the fang-like sides of the circus tent all combine for a slightly creepy look into the world of these sideshow characters.

Pictured here is an early concept for the card back design:

Final back design:

Step Three: Finally, design the tuck. The tuck design fluctuated between the current two-headed lady, a ringmaster, and a fire-eater. Ronny, who also designed the tuck, weighed in on the final product. "The two-headed lady alludes to the classic two-headed sideshow character,” Ronny says. “But it also references the Greek muses Thalia and Melpomene, who you see on the happy-sad masks in theater. We even put the two-headed lady in front of curtains, inviting people to come in and experience the uneasy tension between delight and tragedy that exists in the world of sideshow freaks."

We choose a character for the final art on the tuck. The “Carnie Deck” was the working title of Sideshow Freaks.

Final Tuck Case:

After that, the only thing left was to carefully vectorize each of the illustrations to make them smooth and perfect for the final printing. We think the deck turned out marvelously. Do you?

Post Author: Katherine Monasterio

About Traction: Traction is a design firm located in Cincinnati, OH. They specialize in high end branding and creative projects for a multitude of clients such as The United States Playing Card Company, NBA, Mindbody, Prilosec OTC and many more including local and national brands.

Traction is also behind the Bicycle Speakeasy Deck, Club 808 and others. Check out other ways Traction worked with USPCC at Traction's portfolio!

Visit Traction on the web at!

Be sure to check out the Bicycle Sideshow Freaks deck when it is released next Monday on July 1st.
Designers: Traction Explains Process Behind Upcoming Bicycle Sideshow Freaks Deck Reviewed by Ivan on 6/24/2013 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. […] The minute Traction knew this deck was a go, we had ideas for conveying secrecy in every element of the design along with a sense of the unexpected. Illustrators Emily Webb and Ronny Young returned to craft the aesthetic and character design for Bicycle® Espionage after the success of the Bicycle® Sideshow Freaks Deck. […]


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