Designing a resource for house-fire victims in 48h

The result of my first ever hackathon.

Júlia Both
May 21 · 5 min read

Random Hacks of Kindness puts hackers (tech and design professionals) together with changemakers (charities, non-profits, social entrepreneurs, and community groups) to deliver a solution to a problem in one weekend.

Last week I joined their Melbourne Winter Hackathon (my first hackathon ever). On Saturday morning, I got together with a bunch of people I'd never met to deliver a solution to a charity by Sunday afternoon. This is the result of our collaboration:

The Challenge

Snezana Pezzin lost her family's house to a fire in 2010. Although 3000 people experience house fires in Victoria every year, there is no single place for house fire victims to find all the information they need in the days, months and years after the incident. They are left to navigate the complex process on their own.

Snez and her family struggled with this limited support: there is no single resource that gathers and presents everything house fire victims need to know to rebuild their lives. That's when she started Survive & Thrive: a charity to build such a resource!

The Survive & Thrive team had gathered most of the content, but it was printed out in piles of paper and they were not sure how to organise it and present it to their users.

Based on this need, we defined our goal for the weekend: an online resource for users that mapped and presented their existing content + a basic visual identity for the charity.

These would be used to communicating their vision to the council and other stakeholders in the coming weeks, as well as being a strong design foundation to start building the finished product.

  • How can this large amount of information be organised in a way that will help users find exactly what they need when they need it?
  • How might the visual design communicate clearly without contributing to the trauma the users are going through?

Time to RHoK!

The first thing our team did was sketch out steps to understand the experience of victims of house fires. We were really fortunate to have Snez with us to share her first-hand experience in depth.

Insights from our conversation included:

  • For the first 48h after the fire incident, a user is in a state of shock and needs to quickly find the steps of what to do, listed very clearly.
  • On the first weeks and months after the incident, recovery means simply getting back into a normal routine and covering one's basic needs.
  • Over a longer period of time, it is more about finding support to rebuild one's sense of identity and deal with the lingering mental health effects of the trauma.
  • The needs of each user would be very different, as the outcome of the incident, the resources available to them, and their personal life conditions would be very diverse.

Based on the insights above, our team decided to sort the content according to the time elapsed after the incident, so that users could easily identify which information was relevant to them regardless of their personal circumstances.

We organised the information into three categories: First Steps (48h), Short Term (the following months), and Long Term (the following years). The language was kept vague on purpose because everyone's process of recovery and rebuilding happens over different time spans.

Each of those categories then had content organised into key concerns in three broad themes: the property, the group of people affected (a family or group of friends) and what resources were needed to access help.

Survive & Thrive's team once again gave us some parameters to work with:

  • It’s important that the visuals don’t further contribute to the user's trauma. Bright fire colours and images of disaster should be avoided.
  • The visuals should communicate the idea of rising and overcoming the incident. They should be nurturing, empowering and uplifting.
  • A Phoenix would be an appropriate symbol for the process of rising up after the fire.

Agee Villanueva sketched an artwork of a blue phoenix rising above the fire and chose some fonts that were soft and approachable — creating an image that was loved by both the team and the hackathon judges. Combining this image, the typography and the icons, we had the basis for a visual identity.

Our team developed two ways to deliver the content to users: an online resource and a wallet card with information for the first 48h after the fire.

Part of our team sketched the layout for the wallet card. In the meantime, our developers were hard at work — They created two versions of the website: one hosted in Wordpress, and one hosted in Squarespace. This would give Survive & Thrive's team time to use both and decide which one was easier for them to maintain in the long term.

  • A way to organise the content of the resource based on the users. This can be tested through more research and surveys with users and improved over time.
  • A simple website and a wallet card that can be used for user testing and to convey the vision to stakeholders.
  • A basic visual identity that will help style presentations for stakeholders and be applied in designing the finished resource in the future.

What we created is only a starting point for this project. RHoK encourages each team to keep working with its changemaker to finish what we started (RHoLLing). We'll be catching up again in 6 weeks to continue the work, and I'll be sharing the progress here when we do!

In the meantime, if you're in Australia and working in the field, come be a RHoK Star and join the next hackathon.

Júlia Both

Written by

Designer and Artist / I love researching stuff and making beautiful things / Learning to improve the world with both / Melbourne, Australia