The immediacy, accessibility, and deliberacy of Walt Whitman’s poetry is something that anyone who designs communication could look to for inspiration.

Since his first publication at age 12 Whitman was fascinated with the material transformation of ideas into the permanent manifestation of printed type. He designed the original editions of Leaves of Grass himself, and, legend has it, he even did some of the typesetting to save money.

More important than controlling the way the pages looked, Whitman designed a reading experience that encapsulates the commonalities of what it feels like to be a human being. Song of Myself (linked below) is not a superfluous expression of artistic ideals, but a driving, poignant conversation between the universals, “I” and “You.” It feels relevant and personal to the reader, even after 160 years.

Often designers are orchestrating a conversation of sorts with users through the mediums of product, environment, and interface. There is something to learn from Whitman’s ability to inspire, motivate, and affect with simple, timeless language always aimed directly at the core of his powerful message.

Posted by

Jason in an instructor and MFA candidate in Kent State's VCD program.