Applying Design to Japanese Disaster Research

Graphic Design

SCA PhD student Paul Haimes has received a postdoctoral fellowship through the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Not only is this the only Design fellowship for JSPS, it’s the only fellowship awarded to Tokyo Metropolitan University, making it an even greater achievement for Paul.

Tokyo Metropolitan University is one of the most research-intensive universities in the world at the moment, presenting Paul with the perfect research environment.

The fellowship program itself provides opportunities for young postdoctoral researchers from overseas to conduct, under the guidance of their hosts, cooperative research with leading research groups in Japanese universities and other institutions.

As part of the fellowship, Paul will be working with Associate Professor Tetsuaki Baba in Tokyo Metropolitan University's Graduate School of System Design, investigating how interaction design theory and practice can enhance publicly available disaster information in Japan. 

This carries on from Paul’s previous PhD research within SCA that aimed to present map-based bushfire information to remote Western Australian communities in a more intuitive way. To do this, it used innovative design methods and methodologies that encouraged user participation in the design process. In the postdoctorate, Paul is aiming to build on the findings of his PhD research, including how modern map interfaces such as Google Maps can improve public understanding of disasters. He also hopes to investigate how organisations providing disaster information can cater for crowd-sourced data while still being viewed as a credible information source.

When asked why he chose to dedicate his research to making disaster information more accessible for non-experts, Paul said, “Generally disaster information isn’t really designed very well (if at all), and is really only built for a professional audience in mind – people with technical expertise in spatial analysis, GIS software, etc. What I did with FireWatch – and intend to do in Japan – is make this information easier to understand for a non-technical audience. Organisations at several levels – including the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and Australian state governments – have called for disaster information to be quick, relevant and easy for people in communities to access. This means that applications delivering this type of information need to be built from the ground up specifically for non-expert users – preferably involving them directly in the design process. 

The data I can access in Japan will determine what kinds of disaster information I look at. I anticipate it’ll include earthquakes, tsunamis and possibly typhoons and floods. The idea is that I’ll be working towards a general set of design heuristics for providing disaster information to vulnerable communities.”

Paul was part of a short-term exchange to the Tokyo Metropolitan University last year which helped to build the already strong relationship between TMU and ECU. ECU currently has a memorandum of understanding with Tokyo Metropolitan University which gives students the opportunity to undertake exchange programs like the one Paul has done.