Life Lessons from Burning Man 2023 (Part 3 of 3)

Tutti Taygerly
4 min readSep 20, 2023
Temple of the Heart

If you missed it, catch up on:

In my first career as a designer, in addition to designing the digital products and interfaces, we spent time thinking about the customer journey from the first time a person might have heard of a product or brand, to the experience of using it, and continuing with what happens after their direct experience of using the product. This expansive, time-based design is often described as service design. It takes into account the full customer life cycle spanning before, during, and after the direct experience.

Burning Man is one of the rare events that considers the life cycle of a person’s relationship to the event. People often spend a lot of time in preparation, to make sure that they have the living setup, gear, food & water, as well as elaborate costumes to spend a week out in the desert. As part of a camp, you’ll plan for the gifts and experiences the camp will bring to the playa. Yet Burning Man also has the additional “after” design of how you transition back to the default world after the festival week. This is often referred to as decompression.

7. Decompression

Chill space at 2:00 on the edge of outer playa

The experience of a peak event, whether it’s a vacation, a retreat, an in-person visioning session with the team, or an intense war room sprint often feels fantastic, especially when experienced with a close group of people. I’ve often made the mistake of getting home late on a Sunday night from an exotic vacation, and then dragging myself out of bed to hustle into the regular Monday routine of going to work. That not-a-transition is brutal.

Humans need liminal spaces, the transition spaces between momentous events. This can be in architecture, where hallways are the spaces between rooms or with airports as the spaces between travel. We also need emotional space. Much as an athlete needs rest days in order to train harder, decompression is the space needed between a momentous experience such as Burning Man and the default world.

Burning Man holds formal decompression events often weeks or a month after the Labor Day main event. As with service design, it allows for a re-gathering of the community you spent time on the playa with. It can be hard to answer friends’ questions such as:

“That sounded terrible, are you okay?”
“Were you stuck?”
“Did you feel trapped?”

It can be hard to explain the experience to non-burners. Decompression events are mini-versions to let burners experience a little bit of liminal space of the playa back in the default world.

As for me, after many decades of hustling my way past vacation back into work, I now plan for transition spaces, blocking out a day or two after a vacation or a retreat. This time, I blocked out 2 days of non-client facing work after Burning Man. But it wasn’t enough. My body was so tired from the week of 4–6 hours of sleep each night that I found myself crashing at 9pm and sleeping through to 7am or 8am each morning. I needed mental and physical rest. And it took about a week for me to feel relatively normal.

The final lesson in this series is to think about the principles of service design and build in transition time after each momentous event — a huge product launch, a retreat, a vacation, or something else. When you return to work, perhaps plan for the first day to be meeting-free and a zone to catch up on emails.

And as part of Decompression, people often consider how they might incorporate the 10 Principles of Burning Man back into their every day default life. Is there one that resonates for you?

  1. Radical Inclusion
  2. Gifting
  3. Decommodification
  4. Radical Self-reliance
  5. Radical Self-expression
  6. Communal Effort
  7. Civic Responsibility
  8. Leaving No Trace
  9. Participation
  10. Immediacy (though I’d rename this one to be Presence)

Hello! I’m your host, Tutti Taygerly. I’ve spent 20+ years in product design & technology, leading teams at startups, design agencies, and large tech companies. I left Facebook in the summer of 2019 to focus on executive coaching full-time. I write about topics related to leadership, diversity, & design which you can follow. Feeling overwhelmed by busyness? Check out my book Make Space to Lead.

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Tutti Taygerly

Leadership coach & champion of difficult people; designer of human experiences; ex-Facebook; surfer, traveller, mom; tuttitaygerly.com