Tobias on 10/7/2015

What Burning Man taught me: We hear you, we see you, do we love you?

Whether in digital concepts or in daily life; the simple things can be the biggest challenge. So there were two questions that struck me most while planning my trip to Burning Man. How do you survive in the desert? And what will life be like without smartphone or the internet, with time being totally irrelevant? The answer to the first one was easy — make sure to piss clear. The second one was more surprising — I didn't miss anything. However, when you've finished your last bite of bacon, cooked on the ashes of a Burning Man, another question remains. What do you manage to preserve for your everyday life?

This leads to what in my eyes some people get wrong. Though it feels as if almost every second Burner works at Facebook, Google, AirBnB, Sandbox or the next big start-up-venture-thing, this event is as analog as a smash in the face. The Black Rock City TedX won't tell you about any best case blah-blah. You can fly from San Francisco for 300 bucks. Mingle and network in a climatized tent while taking filtered photos before you stroll back. But the real insights for your life and work in digital projects are hidden beneath the surface. They come in small bits. Like playing connect-four against a guy who developed a connect-four app - too drugged to get the colours right. Or being lost in an alkaline dust storm, a white-out as they're called; while feeling like someone pulled the plug and left you behind.

So in writing about Burning Man, if you can't share an experience how do you share insights? I found the principles of Burning Man to be surprisingly inspiring for digital workers. As to our ultimate mission is to reach out, to connect, to make people interact while providing them with unique, inspiring experiences.

Radical Inclusion
Anyone can be a part of Burning Man. No prerequisites exist for participation in the community.

This is analogous to the breadth in user base of digital products. And given that we want the solution to be focused. It's key to try to really represent the user as the product owner in your concept. Being radical means exploring things to their very core. In so doing don't rely on your own dogmas. Go to the source to validate your thinking. Or else you will create digital dead ends.

Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. The value of giving is unconditional. Giving does not contemplate a return or an exchange.

Such a basic thought. So often violated. How many times do you visit websites that promise something yet deliver nothing or very little? How many times has boring content wasted your time? How many times have you entered your data just to get a shitty newsletter?

In order to preserve the spirit of giving our community seeks to create environments that are unmediated by sponsorships, transactions, and advertising.

This one particularly speaks to online media and advertising which only take your time giving nothing in return. However, corporate sites and their content quality should be measured by the same standards.


Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, moving their body and rely upon inner strengths.

The lesson here — no matter what you do, users of your site, app or digital installation will always be left to themselves. No 'call-to-action' can easily solve this basic problem. Enabling and attracting users to discover and explore are still fundamental challenges.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine the content. You won't activate the user; unless you truly understand what product and experiences best fit to their needs. And you truly respect this needs.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art and various methods of communication. Okay, we don't need to emphasize the insights provided by this rule, do we?

Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate those responsibilities

No digital solution takes place in a vacuum. Do the right thing - but what might that be? We must consider ever evolving technologies as a part of our job. Sometimes they do have the capacity to change society. Acknowledge this every day - don't neglect it.

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Leaving No Trace
We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Oh, dear. We could design with less white pixels to save on energy. But leaving no trace in digital, what could that mean? I guess, it's a mixture of providing a user experience with a structure and a design that creates joy of use.

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.

Again, it's about involvment. Let people participate in product development via iterative prototyping. Participation is agile; it's nothing you can do at a certain point and then tick off. It is rather something that should be constantly injected in different doses and aligned with your strategy: By a muse, a focus group, qualitative analysis or a quantitative survey. However, measuring and adapting sometimes is the hardest thing to explain to a client; as this often starts with more questions than answers.


Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

We should emphasize that digital is about overcoming barriers instead of creating them, sampling and enhancing reality to create immediate and joyful experiences. In the end, it's the simple things that are the hardest to achieve.

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