How to Sell Playing Cards, Apple-Style

A former Apple designer is crowdfunding his Atelier Playing Cards.

Robert Padbury via Kickstarter

A former Apple designer is crowdfunding his Atelier Playing Cards.

Apple’s product design team has specialized in making complex things — digital music, mobile phones, computers — seem simple. Robert Padbury, a former Apple user interface designer, wants to apply that design philosophy to something that’s already pretty simple: playing cards.

In this case, real simple. The back of each Atelier card shows a graphic made up of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds arranged in a circle. Padbury said the design for the $19 playing-card set was inspired by the opening credits of the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale.” The card face shows the number and suit on two corners, instead of the usual four, in a diminutive typeface — leaving an expanse of blank space in the middle.

“The most important part is the bit in the corner because that’s what you see when you’re holding the cards,” Padbury said in an interview. “So you end up with this really beautiful, clean design.”

Padbury’s project proves that the Apple halo can be applied to just about any product, including something as boring as playing cards. Atelier exceeded its goal of raising $7,500 on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter within two days. Apple followers are helping to raise Padbury’s profile, thanks partly to a write-up by blogger John Gruber urging his readers to “pile on and make this project a big hit.” Atelier is now at more than $31,000 with about three weeks to go.

It’s not just the design of the cards that draws on Apple’s aesthetic. Padbury emulates the company’s approach to marketing its products.

In a pitch to prospective backers on Kickstarter, the video opens with Padbury set against a black background. It ends with a line that could come from almost any Apple keynote: “I’m really excited to bring this project to life, and I think you’ll find the end results will be pretty incredible.”

Padbury, who worked on programs such as iPhoto and iMovie during his three years at Apple, speaks in the same deliberate, mellifluous quality of the oft-parodied Jony Ive promos. Padbury punctuates his statements with the familiar, breathless descriptions of arcane design elements. He even has a cool Aussie accent.

“Playing cards have been around for hundreds of years,” Padbury told me. “I wanted to approach it as though there was no history.”

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