The story begins in Vesterbro, Copenhagen, the most alive and vibrant part of Copenhagen: Fancy clubs, drug users, hipsters, prostitutes, families and children – all of these meet to create a multicultural and diverse area.
The first morning, we – as the students and instructors from CIID – met in a café just near Café D and “the yard”. We had no idea about what was coming.

After getting a brief information about the area, we went out as a big group to see everything ourselves. Perhaps due to the size of our group or because of our designer’s attitude, we were not very successful in obtaining insights, but this was the first day of our fieldwork and we would have to wait until the next day for more intense experience to shake us.

Next day we took our design “weapons” into “the yard”; questions, games, recording devices, cameras. We believed that we would be able to make the drug users share their personal histories, opinions, deep and valuable thoughts with us; give us the answers as we needed. Everything that we planned just flew away the moment that we entered into the yard and sat down on the bench. Nearby, a drug user was fixing. We had no idea what to say or where to begin so we started listening… really listening… listening to the people of Vesterbro who were screaming “I AM HERE”.

“I am Here” consists of a suite of people centred research findings and conceptual suggestions on 3 potential directions for working further city developments in Vesterbro, Copenhagen.

The challenge was to understand better the needs of individual residents and stakeholder groups within the Vesterbro community including drug users, individuals and groups that provide services to the drug user community, working- and middle-class families and the areas merchants. The focus was to strengthen the positive relationships and trusts among different inhabitants in Vesterbro. The research outputs also include the overall process mindset suggested for adoption in further concept developments.


Mindset 1 – Forget!

Throughout the whole process this was the hardest thing to do. In order to understand what people were saying or meaning, we had to forget every prejudice, every idea, every belief that we had about the subject. We had to investigate every respondent type equally, not just focus on drug users as the troublemakers/main problem. People all have problems of their own. Drug users just bottle them up and fix them with a needle.

Mindset 2 – Engage!

It is necessary to try to meet the humans behind the stereotype – this also means trying to step out of your own professional role for a moment to learn from the environment. Engaging people emotionally was as important as engaging them physically.

Mindset 3 – Find!

As one of our interviewees said, “People centered design is an art of acupuncture. If you can find the right spot, you can solve big problems just with a tip of a needle”. Usually, the social structure and dynamics around the problem that you are dealing with in sociological research is way too big to be solved in every respect. Therefore, trying to find out the right point and precisely designing for that may produce much bigger impacts.


Keyfinding 1

“Mental walls are higher than the physical walls at Vesterbro”
(Father,35, Musician)

After interviewing people from different parts of Vesterbro society and at least partially understanding the dynamics of Vesterbro, we wanted to focus on “yellow jackets”. Yellow jackets are the volunteers in Vesterbro, who collect syringes from the streets. Although they also use drugs, the voluntary job that they do everyday separates them from the other drug users.

In a sense, they are a communication bridge between drug users and the rest of the community. This bridge of communication to the rest of the community begins with the “yellow jacket” taking ownership of what he is doing, it is something useful that brings him beyond being the disempowered person in the yard.

Keyfinding 2

“When P. is removing syringes, he is at the same time removing one of the only things that people share concern about in the area.”
(Mother, 41, Academician)

This keyfinding was very interesting for us. While yellow jackets were removing the only object that may be dangerous for the little kids in the area, they were also removing that symbolic object that connects different stakeholders of Vesterbro community and obtaining the role of connection medium.

Keyfinding 3

“ Even if you live in this area, it doesn’t mean you know what yellow jacket means or any of these narratives. The question is do you have to, do you need to? ”
(Mother, 41, Academician)

Putting the question aside for further discussion, we tried to concentrate on how to make “yellow jackets” or the job they do more visible in society. How could we support their attempt to create an identity for themselves as well as being helpful to the community?

Considering these keyfindings, we created some prototypes and sketches to conceptualise our findings and had a chance to probe them with new interviewees to get feedback.

The concept sketches are divided into three levels of change, each trying to grow positive change in Vesterbro.

Level1- Principle

Cover the needle – at the point of a needle is never a nice way to greet or meet your neighbors. Including a recycled cork in the drug users kit can be a good initiative to both reduce waste and cover the contagious needle.

Level2- Narrative

Expand the word fixing – the power of having a choice in your everyday and redefine yourself to yourself and others.
Everybody in the area knows what the word fixing means – providing both the drug users and the other groups in the area an alternative understanding/meaning of this word. Fixing can also have a positive meaning. For instance, “fixing” the environment by picking up the needles by drug users themselves and at the same time building up a positive identity towards the other inhabitants in Vesterbro.

Level3- Value

I am not just… – challenging bias and prejudices between inhabitants of Vesterbro. The sentence “I am not just…” is together with the photo meant to trigger your bias/prejudices to finish the sentence before. However, as you open the pamphlet a story about the human being behind the stereotype will begin to reveal itself.