“Once a year, tens of thousands of people gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert (also known as "the playa") to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever,” from burningman.com.
FIDM SF instructor Lisa Hoffman has been designing the maps for Burning Man since 2001. She discusses her process and the evolution of the event.
Q. When did you start going to the festival?
A. 1991 was my first trip to the Black Rock Desert for the annual Burning Man event. There were about 250 people there that year. Like most everyone else who goes out to the playa for Burning Man, I came back excited and ready to invite everyone I knew for the following year. I returned for five years in a row and saw the population double each time.
Q. When did you start making the maps?
A. The first city plan and corresponding map and guide were introduced in 1997. In 2001, I took over the design of the map and guide.
Q. Since it changes each year, how do you select a theme?
A. The map design is always based on the art theme for the event. Larry Harvey, Executive Director of the Burning Man Project, dreams up the theme each year. I bounce his ideas around in my head for months before I start designing. While the design is taking shape, I begin working with the Placement Team to collect all the data. In the early days of designing the map I’d go to the Burning Man headquarters and meet in the heavily guarded off limits space where a giant CAD map of the city plan was printed in sections and taped up around the room. For years this process of placing the theme camps and villages was done with pencil and paper. As the Placement Team has grown and become more geographically spread out, it has become necessary to do the mapping on computers, so the delivery of the placed camps now comes to me digitally.
Q. Tell us about some of your favorites.
A. “Metropolis: The Life of Cities” was the theme for Burning Man 2010. I had always wanted a reason to be inspired by Harry Beck’s iconic London Underground map and this theme was the perfect fit. I also really wanted to create a Black Rock City version of the iconic roundel logo used to brand the underground. I knew a friend of a friend who worked at Transport for London and with his help was able to get official written permission to use the version of the circle with the open top mimicking the shape of Black Rock City.
A. With the Rites of Passage theme in 2011 I decided to use a timepiece (see art at top) for the face of the map to suggest the passage of time. The production process for this map was a special one because I got to use so many resources around me. I borrowed a collection of gears from FIDM instructor, Dale Carlton, and a beautiful collection of pocket watches from Career Center Advisor, Julie Arnone. One particularly fabulous watch with an intricate sculpted edge became the star of the map.
Q. Have you had any guidelines in designing the maps?
A. One of the goals I’ve had in doing this project is to try to make each map look different from previous years. I feel I’ve succeeded when I hear people say they didn’t realize the same designer has been doing the maps all these years.
Q. What do you see in the future for Burning Man maps?
A. While I enjoy the process very much and appreciate the freedom I have in choosing a design every year, I’ve always felt there needed to be an end. Next year will be my 13th map for Burning Man and it will be the last in my series. The doors will be open for a new designer to take over. As the city and event continue to evolve, so will the map.
Lisa Hoffman is the Department Coordinator for Graphic Design and Visual Communications at FIDM in San Francisco. Lisa’s professional career includes time spent as a Window Designer for Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlors; a Production Artist, Art Director and Production Manager for various multi-media companies; a Graphic and Textile Designer for Esprit Corporation; and, Map Designer for the Burning Man organization. Lisa’s work has been featured at ProArts Gallery, Diego Rivera Gallery, and the Exploratorium. For more information and samples of work go lisatized.com.