The Inverse Tarot

Tarot cards designed to include their corresponding reversed interpretations.

Project Brief

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.

This project was originally launched as part of Jacob's Visual Communication Design senior capstone project at SFSU. The deck will continue being developed, and updates can be viewed here or at

Project Type
Visual Design Project
Project Timeline
4 Months
Skills & Tools

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.

competitive analysis
Competitor landscape comparing dimensions of image quality and symbolism

User Personas

User personas identified in market research span tiers of professional Tarot readers,Tarot enthusiasts, and the patrons who support them. Data for personas were acquired from Jacob’s Tarot-centric Instagram account.

persona data
Sample group data consisted of 149 followers as of March 2018.

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.

facial expression and body language research reference images
Facial expression and body language research
personality type correspondences
Correlation between Tarot court cards and MBTI personality types

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.


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.

design iterations
design iterations

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.

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.

card designs
Ace of Wands and Ace of Cups (upright)

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.

card designs
Ace of Swords and Ace of Pentacles (upright)

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.

card designs
Ace of Wands and Ace of Cups (reversed)

"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.

card designs
Ace of Swords and Ace of Pentacles (reversed)

The Matriarch: Upright is "The Naturist" for the divine creative motherly force. Reversed is "The Nanny" for the mother's dry restrictive personality.

The Hermit: Upright is "Introspection" for deep inward reflection. Reversed is "Reclusion" for the monastic solitary practice.

The Two of Disks: Upright is "Fluctuation" for change and duality. Reversed is "Facade" for the appearances one must keep to maintain an illusion.

card designs
Other Tarot card designs

Box Design

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

card package design
Package designs

Book Design

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

book design
Book design

View Inkdoc Template Case Studies

These case studies include details and design work from the implementation.

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