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This beautifully designed deck of playing cards honors Black icons, from MLK Jr. to Oprah

This 22-year-old graphic designer wanted a way to keep the conversation going beyond Black History Month.

This beautifully designed deck of playing cards honors Black icons, from MLK Jr. to Oprah
[Photo: courtesy Studio Lo]
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When Kearra Johnson redesigned a card deck for a school project in the fall of 2019 at the University of Missouri, she immediately loved the result. She didn’t realize that lots of other people would, too.

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The deck—called Revolution Cards—features prominent Black historical figures instead of the standard face cards. While the cards can be used like any normal deck, Johnson also wanted it to spark conversations about Black luminaries.

[Photo: courtesy Studio Lo]
Johnson, 22, said a professor at the university wanted to order a few decks of cards for her grad students last October. But there was a small problem—they didn’t actually exist yet. So Johnson, who graduated in 2020 with a degree in graphic design, decided to bring Revolution card deck into production.

The visual style of the card deck is purposefully pulled from that of traditional cards, where the face cards have a very flat, angled, illustration style. Johnson’s deck is black, white, and gold, with a clenched fist at the back of each. The face cards aren’t nameless kings and queens, however. They depict major Black figures like Barack and Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. There are 12 different figures in total; the king, queen, and jack of each suit have been replaced by portraits.

Johnson chose these people because she considers them fundamental to Black history. “These are figures that have changed the ways we operate in society. They are trailblazers for political change,” says Johnson. “I thought it was very important to start this project off by commemorating them, and all they’ve done for us.” She adds that even though they’re well-known, she wanted to present them in a new way.

Kearra Johnson [Photo: courtesy Studio Lo]
The deck can also a hidden teaching moment, and a fun way to keep the conversation about Black history going beyond Black History Month. “A lot of times when people show their excitement for this deck of cards it’s related to children, and even if the teaching behind it doesn’t stick, it’s a great way to expose younger generations to Black figures,” says Johnson, who runs her own studio and works as a graphic designer at a nonprofit market in Kansas City.

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The deck has been popular so far. Johnson sold out of the first run of 600 card decks. She’s now launched a second run, which is the last batch she has on the calendar for now. Revolution card decks are available for $30 at the Studio Lo website or for $20 through gift shop Made in Kansas City through this Friday.

About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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