The Inverse Tarot

A unique design for a Tarot deck and its supporting materials

The Inverse Tarot splash banner

Project Brief

Design Challenge: How can the Tarot be designed to include images which correspond with their reversed interpretations?

A Tarot deck is a set of 78 cards which are used for divination (personal reflection and fortunetelling). Each card represents any given archetype found within the human condition. Most Tarot card readers have a set interpretation for each card—only some of which, have interpretations of the card’s reversed meaning. Each card can be viewed right-side up or upside-down, and deeper levels of meaning are added to both these directions

Skills & Tools Used:

The Finished Product

The final components of this project included the series of cards, an accordion-fold booklet, a box, and book design. In addition to these a website and branded social media accounts were created to promote the project.

The Inverse Tarot product layout
The final box set with fan-out of select card designs.

The Aces

A brief description of the four aces in their upright configuration:

The Ace of Wands: “Ignition”, the energetic aspect. A life-force from within is expelled into the world.

Action, sensuality, expression, and imagination are released in temperance and grace. The rainbow emits layers of passion, and segments to the depth of one’s will and their identity.

The Ace of Cups: “Joy”, the emotional aspect. A psychic fabric woven together by the subconscious of all lifeforms.

Benevolence, positive emotions, and empowerment. Life-giving water delivered to thirsty animals and plants. The eye gushes tears of joy and excitement, filling the cup. These feelings come from the heart.

The Ace of Swords: “Truth”, the mental aspect. Divine forces at play, removed from mortality yet absolute in reality.

Honesty, wisdom, morality, and law. The code by which things order themselves to, the keeper of truth at the cost of sacrifice. The book opens to knowledge, secular or holy, and provides depth of meaning to life.

The Ace of Disks: “Prospects”, the material aspect. The temporal and our shared physical reality.

Fertility, opportunities, and sustenance. Something to gain or grow from by making an investment. The acorn may be small, but has all the potential to grow into a grand tree.

The Inverse Tarot Ace of Wands reversed
Ace of Wands upright
The Inverse Tarot Ace of Cups
Ace of Cups upright
The Inverse Tarot Ace of Swords
Ace of Swords upright
The Inverse Tarot Ace of Disks
Ace of Disks upright

The Aces Reversed

When the cards become reversed a new subject matter dominates the upper portion of the card, and a new keyword comes into focus.

“Ignition” becomes “Misdirection”

Overexertion, intimidation, missed-connections, and overshooting the the target. The lizard, hungry for warmth and light, disrupts the graceful flow and scatters the light erratically.

“Joy” becomes “Disruption”

Aggression, sadness, and discomfort. The sharp-toothed fish flaps about, knocking over the cup and emptying it. From the same source, feelings of anger and pain emerge.

“Truth” becomes “Deception”

Lies and duplicity. Corruption of power and extortion. The eagle uses its advantage to confuse and belittle its prey.

“Prospects” becomes “Misuse”

Beginnings of abuse, selfish-ness, and indulgence. The scavenging rabbit snatches up a gem for herself, unconcerned with where it came from or who it belonged to.

The Inverse Tarot Ace of Wands
Ace of Wands reversed
The Inverse Tarot Ace of Cups reversed
Ace of Cups reversed
The Inverse Tarot Ace of Swords reversed
Ace of Swords reversed
The Inverse Tarot Ace of Disks reversed
Ace of Disks reversed

Additional Card Designs

The Two of Disks, The Matriarch, The Hermit, and the card back design.

The Inverse Tarot Two of Disks
Two of Disks
The Inverse Tarot The Matriarch
The Matriarch
The Inverse Tarot The Hermit
The Hermit
The Inverse Tarot card back design
card back design

Box Design

The box can be opened from either end and each side reads “As Above” or “So Below”.

The Inverse Tarot box design side 2
box design with inner “As Above” text
The Inverse Tarot box design side 1
box design with inner “So Below” text

Book Design

The Inverse Tarot Guide Book is also reversible, and can be read upside-down for the reversed interpretations.

The Inverse Tarot book design ace of cups
the book when upright
The Inverse Tarot book design ace of cups reversed
the book when reversed

Design Process

The design process involved a series of research topics, sketching, and prototyping.

Market Research

The competitive landscape compared various styles of popular Tarot decks on the market. On the horizontal dimension, cards were qualified between illustrious and abstract renderings. On the vertical dimension, cards were qualified between conventional and unconventional symbolism. The Inverse Tarot falls in the upper left quadrant.

The Inverse Tarot market research competitive landscape
Competitor landscape comparing dimensions of image quality (illustrious to abstract) and symbolism (conventional to unconventional).
The Inverse Tarot market research @78nightsoftarot instagram data
Data for personas were acquired from Jacob’s Tarot-centric Instagram account (@78nightsoftarot). The sample group consisted of 149 followers as of March 2018.

User Personas

User personas identified in market research span tiers of professional Tarot readers,Tarot enthusiasts, and the patrons who support them.

The Inverse Tarot research persona 1
The Inverse Tarot research persona 2
The Inverse Tarot research persona 3

Design Research

The cards require a portrayal of certain personalities and characteristics. These qualities can be backed by personality typology, such as Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator. After extensive research and comparative research between various viewpoints—a finalized chart attributing these qualities was determined. Various forms of microexpressions included: Facial Expressions, Body Posture, Gestures, Handshakes, Breathing Kinesthetics (Physical Movements), Oculesics (Eye Movement), Haptics (Touching). Proxemics (Personal Space), and Tone of Voice. Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are” revealed how power poses relate to dominance, success, and confidence.

The Inverse Tarot research microexpressions
Microexpressions and body language explored ways in which we communicate confidence and dominance.
The Inverse Tarot research mbti
A table revealing MBTI personality types associated with Tarot card attributes.

Design Iterations

Loose sketches allowed an exploration of what the cards’ symbolism and deeper concepts. Overarching thematic concepts were explored by sketching various characters with shared, yet individualized traits. Each card design started as a sketch, was refined, and brought into Adobe Illustrator to be manually traced. Each vector shape was colorized and developed further.


Sketches helped define an art direction while developing individual concepts for card designs.

The Inverse Tarot sketchbook
The Inverse Tarot sketches 3
The Inverse Tarot sketches 2
The Inverse Tarot sketches 1
The Inverse Tarot sketches 4

Design Comps

As the artwork was designed over a series of iterations—the border designs were explored simultaneously. The resulting design led into a contemporary use of typography and white-space. The back of cards required a perfectly symmetrical design so while face down—wouldn’t give-away their active orientation.

The Inverse Tarot design comps 1
The Inverse Tarot design comps 2


You’ve just viewed the beginnings of The Inverse Tarot project! The deck is currently being developed, and updates can be viewed on the website and the @inversetarot Instagram account. Sign up for The Inverse Tarot Newsletter to get updates directly to your email inbox.

This project launched as part of Jacob’s Visual Communication Design senior capstone project and continues on as one of Jacob’s passion projects.

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