thirdway playing cards

Interview with Playing Card Designer Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries)

by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame

Who is Giovanni Meroni?

When I first stumbled across some of Giovanni Meroni's playing card designs online, I was just blown away. The classy and elegant appearance of the decks he has created made an immediate impression on me. I was also very impressed by the way he has drawn on mythology, literature, and art in the creation of his playing cards. 

So who is Giovanni Meroni? He's a freelance designer and art director in Italy, who has created the product brand Thirdway Industries. To underline his credentials as a designer, he's done work for big-name clients like Vodafone, Nestle, Schwarzkopf, Gucci, Coca Cola, and Red Bull. His experience includes more than a dozen years of working for agencies and companies, including online art direction for an e-commerce company. But amongst other things, Giovanni likes to design decks of playing cards, and naturally that is where he gets our interest and attention!

Giovanni Meroni

Giovanni's first published deck was in 2014, when he created what he called The Evil Deck, which went on to win a playing card contest, and inspired him to continue exploring the world of playing cards. He turned to Kickstarter the following year, to create his Delirium Prism deck, which is a modern deck that was selected by United Cardists as their official 2015 deck.

In the same year Giovanni created his Omnia: The First series, which featured three decks representing different dimensions of the Omnia universe. This was followed in 2016 by its sequel, Omnia: The Golden Age, which maintained the Omnia theme but in era of abundance and wealth. Dedalo followed the same year, and was inspired by Greek mythology, telling the story of Theseus and The Minotaur, along with Dedalo, the builder of the Labyrinth of Crete.

Arguably Giovanni's most successful deck was produced in 2017, and was entitled SINS. This was inspired by the literature and art that explores the Seven Deadly Sins (Greed, Envy, Pride, Lust, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth). This concept has a long history, and Giovanni was able to draw upon the rich tradition of these themes as they have featured strongly in both art and literature. 

From that point on, Giovanni has gone from strength to strength. Other successful series he has produced include LunaticaOdisseaBetrayersMonolithConquerors, along with some stand-alone decks. Today he is a very respected designer with a proven portfolio of successful designs. In fact, his playing cards are so popular that they are quickly funded whenever he produces a new project. He's also very active in the playing card community, and you'll often find him posting in various forums. This makes him very approachable, and he communicates well with his fans.

Giovanni was happy to agree to an interview, and answer some questions about playing cards from his perspective as a designer. So let's head straight to our interview, and listen to the insights and observations he has to share!

thirdway industries playing cards

The Interview

For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background? What do you do for a day job and/or what are your other interests?

I am a web art director and graphic designer with a passion for digital illustration. I am born in 1983 and started working in the graphic design field when I was 19. I studied graphic design and art direction in Milan and worked for several advertising and web agencies. I am currently working during the daytime as the online art director for an Italian e-commerce company. And, obviously, I am designing playing cards and other stuff under the brand Thirdway Industries since 2014.

When did you start designing playing cards, and what got you started?

I started in 2013, after a huge creative and personal crisis. I was really tired about designing for other people, and overall unsatisfied about what I was doing. Designing websites is a nice job, but in the end everything you design is destined to disappear. I wanted to design something physical that could endure time. The idea was a (Evil) Deck.

What is the meaning and significance of the name Thirdway Industries?

I found the concept in a screenplay book I read in Art Academy when I was a young student. The book said that a creative always need to find two ways to solve a problem, and then choose the “third” one. The whole explanation was a little more complicated than this, and involved “thesis, antithesis and synthesis”. Anyways, I consider the “third” way to be “the creative and unpredictable” one, so that should fit me a bit.

Funny fact: the example in the screenplay book was Pulp Fiction, when the boxer portrayed by Bruce Willis needs to pick a weapon. He picks a baseball bat (thesis), then a chainsaw (antithesis) and then opts for a katana (synthesis): probably the most unpredictable - but surprisingly awesome - choice in that context. That katana is for me Thirdway Industries.

How would you see yourself as a designer today, compared to when you started?

Much, much more experienced. I’ve learned a lot about printing techniques and, of course, playing cards. I think that my designs are much more mature now.

What are some of the innovations that we should look for in your newer decks, and weren't present in your very first designs?

I always try to innovate and tell new stories. My latest decks have much more details, backstories and printing features, compared to my older ones.

odissea playing cards

What are some of the things you especially enjoy about designing playing cards?

Create stories, for sure! I always imagine the background of the characters I design.

How do you come up with an idea for a deck design?

The funny thing is that I don’t know - I take inspirations from everything I see. Books, movies, video-games. Sometimes I have inspirations in the craziest moments (shower, on the beach, when I am about to sleep). Usually I write my ideas in a file - when I want make something new, I open it and I decide what to do next. For example, I had the word “Monolith” written in that document already in 2015.

How many decks have you designed so far, and which of these have been your most popular and successful designs? 

I’ve produced 37 designs so far. My most successful series is probably SINS.

If you’re curious, here is the list (so far): Evil Deck, Delirium Prism, Omnia Oscura, Illumina, Suprema, Antica, Perduta, Magnifica, Dedalo Alpha, Omega, Apeiron, Pantheon, Sins Corpus, Mentis, Anima, Eva, Lunatica Equinox, Solstice, Chimera, Phoenix, Delirium Insomnia, Absolute, Ascension, Odissea Minerva, Neptune, Mythica, Nec Plus Ultra, Betrayers Lucis, Tenebra, Veritas, Invictus, Gold, Black and White Monolith, Conquerors Victoria and Audax, and the upcoming Order.

Which deck (or decks) in your portfolio of created designs is your favourite, and why?

Eva is one of my favourite ones, for the theme and how it turned out - it was my first USPCC decks and metallic inks amazed me. However, lately I’m in love with the awesome holographic cold foil of Monolith.

playing card court cards

How would you describe the style of your playing card decks? Are there any particular features or characteristics of your decks that you hope people will notice and appreciate, or help make your decks different from the many others out there?

I have a modern, sharp style that uses vectors. I use both lines and shapes. The style is simple, but very detailed and sharp. Of course one of the strong points of my projects are the pretty queens.

What is your process in designing a deck of playing cards, starting with the concept, all the way to completing the project and having finished decks?

After I’ve decided the theme and the “master style”, I usually design two courts, one male and one female. Usually these are the King and the Queen of Hearts. When the first two courts are done, I’ll design everything else, randomly.

Which printer do you use to make your playing cards, and why? What has your experience with them been like?

I absolutely love the technology of Cartamundi, Monolith is simply incredible. But I also love USPCC because of their incredible metallic inks and their way to manage things. They’re very responsive, fast and easy to work with.

royal playing cards

What are some of the easiest, and what are some of the hardest parts of the process in making a deck of custom playing cards?

Nothing is really easy, but I’d say that managing the fulfillment is the most boring and stressing part overall - for me, at least. But it’s also very important, so I’ll do my best to make it smooth.

What is it about designing a deck of playing cards as a creator that you wish consumers realized more?

I really don’t like, nor understand, the big hype for some effortless decks. I hope the customers will value the art and backstory behind one deck instead the pure “hype”. 

The playing card industry has changed rapidly over the last decade. Do you have any thoughts on the explosion of custom playing cards that we are seeing today? 

Yes, now the competition is harder - but overall I think is a good thing. There are many options for a collector today, so there is a deck for everyone. This will, hopefully, attract more people into collecting.

What impact has crowdfunding like Kickstarter has had on the custom playing card industry? And what has your own experience with this been like?

Crowdfunding is very, very important for the playing cards industry. Without Kickstarter, several creators - me included - couldn’t start their business. My experience with Kickstarter is overall positive, but I’ve also successfully tried other ways to fund my decks.

Where do you think the custom playing card industry will go from here, and what innovations or changes might we see in the coming years?

I hope for more advanced printing technologies, easier and cheaper to use than now.

luntica playing cards

What do your family and friends think of your love for designing playing cards? How do you explain your work to non-enthusiasts of playing cards?

My family is very happy and patient about my passion and business. Usually, when I tell random people that I “design playing cards”, they don’t understand immediately what I do, but usually are quite curious.

Do you belong to any playing card organizations, or connect with other designers, either online or in any other way?

Yes, I connect with other designers and also customers via mail or chat. And I usually check forums.

What advice would you give someone just starting to collect playing cards today? 

Don’t buy everything. Focus only on the decks you love much. Also, I would suggest to prefer bundles over the single decks to grow a collection faster and cheaper.

king and queen of hearts

What do you consider to be important elements of a quality design, and what they should look for in a quality deck of playing cards?

Custom design for me is very important. Then also a great printer and design features. Lazy designs, excessive recolors and - of course- ugly artwork are a big no for me.

Do you have any recent, current, or upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

Yes! Currently I am launching a new Kickstarter, the Order. This new project is inspired by dystopian novels like 1984.

Are there any questions that you'd love to answer and that you wish I had asked? 

Maybe something about the themes of my decks: I have a fascination for evil characters, but overall the themes in my decks are positive. Apart from the Evil Deck, which is pure evil, the others (even the darkest series like SINS or Betrayers), have a positive message. Sometimes, very hidden.

My favourite themes and values are freedom, ecology and self empowerment. I really believe that everyone is in charge of their own destiny, which is often summarized in my motto “Audentes Fortuna Iuvat”.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about designing playing cards, or about playing cards?

I have recently found another (experimental) way to create cards, through Patreon. I have just designed a new deck, Conquerors, mainly for Patrons. So far the experiment is going well. If you’re interested, see the Patreon page.

queen of hearts

Final Thoughts

There are two things in particular that I appreciate about Giovanni Meroni's contribution to the world of custom playing cards:

The artwork style: Giovanni has a distinctive and instantly recognizable style which stands out from the kind of artwork typically produced by American artists and designers, and perhaps his Italian context explains this somewhat. The direction of his artwork, especially on the court cards, has both a classic and a Mediterranean feel, which instantly sets it apart from a regular deck of playing cards. There is complete customization, while at the same time everything is still very functional and usable. This sophisticated look continues with the classy tuck boxes, which are among the nicest that you'll find.

Thematic stories: For Giovanni, the theme and back-story of his playing cards is very important. I particularly appreciate how he has woven the ancient myths and symbols into his artwork. His decks create a thematic and artistic unity which is based on a long literary and artistic tradition, and often contains much rich symbolism.

With beautiful and unique artwork that ties in well with his rich themes, steeped in symbolism, literature, and art, and packaged in luxurious tuck boxes, the playing cards of Giovanni Meroni from Thirdway Industries are definitely more than just a pretty face, but have real personality and character. This is definitely a designer that collectors will appreciate, and whose work is worth following.

jack of clubs

Where to get them? You'll find plenty of decks by Giovanni Meroni on PlayingCardDecks here

Where to learn more? Check out Giovanni's official website, or stay in touch with his projects on Kickstarter or via social media (FacebookInstagramTwitter). You can also subscribe to the official TWI newsletter, or check out his Patreon for information about new releases and special offers.

thirdway playing card logo

About the writerEndersGame is a well-known and highly respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.

Last update date: 04/07/20

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Sean M on 2019,09,03

Thank you for the interesting interview. I had recently backed the Order project in KS so it was great to get this insight from the designer, who I did not know anything about. I only recently have became aware of the world of collectible playing card decks. I had no idea there was so much thought and creativity being expressed through what many regard as a mundane object. I have been sucked in, and have quickly amassed a still small, but quickly expanding collection. In doing so I can see the sage wisdom in Mr. Meroni’s advice regarding not buying everything. In my short time collecting, I can see my tastes starting to become more refined, favoring particular design aesthetics over others. I now recognize it really should be “quality over quantity”, with quality not necessarily meaning “rare and expensive”, but being designs that truly provide you with pleasure and satisfaction when viewed or handled.

That’s why I love the singles that has sent me with every order I have made so far. It has exposed me to designs that I would not have otherwise considered for myself, and sometimes I am surprised by what I am drawn to once the card is in my hand. Pictures are nice, but they are no replacement for seeing them in person and feeling the texture.

Thanks again!

Richard J Peters on 2019,09,03

Very good article!

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