Crossing the fence is a project by Alix Gillet-Kirt, Marco Triverio, and Yufan (Wei) Wang developed during the People Centered Design class held by Brian Rink (IDEO San Francisco), Joachim Halse (Danish Design School), and Nina Christoffersen (IDEO Munich) at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID,

Our research started from field observations and urban exploration that provided us with the backdrop for the central part of our project: the people of Vesterbro.

We have been asked to immerse ourselves in one of the most controversial neighborhood of the city of Copenhagen, Denmark: Vesterbro. This neighborhood is known for hosting extremely different categories of citizens: from drug users to young students, from prostitutes to families. The contrasts are unspoken yet evident.

After interviewing different stakeholders we have gained important insights on the life in the neighborhood. We have then sketched different potential solutions that we have then validated, adjusted, abandoned, improved, or redesigned through several co-creation sessions. The process and the results are presented in the following paragraphs.

Conducting a dozen interviews with a variety of people – drug users, caretakers, cultural actors, families and students – gave us precious insights on the neighborhood’s communities and their habits, while allowing us to enhance our user-research skills and giving us the opportunity to explore design methods tailored for our interviewees and for our research topic: we started from classic interviews, documented through pictures, audio, and notes, and we tested design games, low-fidelity prototypes, and physical prompts, which proved to successfully enable co-creation.

As a team we swapped roles, acting successively as the listener, the interviewer or the observer – acquiring greater understanding from our different viewpoints.

Later processing our raw material – images and quotes – back at the studio, we selected key insights and clustered them into three main themes, which provided us with “How might we” questions which generated design directions. We then reflected on design concepts, which we discussed during co-creation sessions with various members of the Vesterbro’s community.

The learning experience went way beyond the pure syllabus of the class. The excitement and the fear connected to such a delicate research topic quickly became the engine of curiosity, eagerness to learn, and positive criticism.

Field research has shown us the power of connecting with people: by offering a cup of hot coffee and a sketch drawn on-site, we have managed to establish a short yet very personal conversation with some of the drug users in the backyard of Café D (a café that offers free food and affordable beverages to its guests). Through this extremely touching experience we have easily abandoned preconceptions and almost naturally embraced empathy.

After interviewing different stakeholders in the community of Vesterbro, we were astounded to discover themes and needs arising from the words of the interviewees. The extrapolated insights clearly deviated from what our presuppositions were, and, once more, showed us the strength of listening and reflecting on what people say.

The gathered insights were the basis for the subsequent brainstorming sessions and proved priceless in guiding our creation process. Yet, the importance of verifying assumptions and the importance of iterating on ideas became evident after the first co-creation session: through naive and genuine feedback our ideas gained a new perspective, allowing us to better understand their potential in a real context.

Finally we found out that design tools are… just tools. Being creative and flexible about them can greatly encourage collaboration and trust from the interviewees.

The common presence of syringes and drug kits on the streets of Vesterbro

Interviews at Café D (Café Dugnad), a café where drug users are given free food, and at Sunhedsrummet

Interviews with different stakeholders in Vesterbro: a policeman, a young student, and a mother

Back in the studio we put on the wall all the pictures and quotes from the interviews

For most of the quotes we wrote down “what it means” and “so what” in order to go beyond the words spoken by the interviewees. We then extrapolated three topics: identity, privacy, and time.

On those topics we formulated three “How might we...” questions that have driven the following brainstorming sessions

Some of the ideas generated around the topics of identity, privacy, and time

Co-creation sessions: we involved Vesterbro’s stakeholders in the creation of new ideas

and in the critique of concepts generated in the studio.

The flipping wall: after the co-creation sessions we updated this idea bringing it

to a more detailed level -and completing the first design iteration

"I have some friends here but it is hard for me to trust them. There are some very good actors" (drug user and customer at Café D)

"I am embarrassed of taking drugs in public" (drug user and customer at Café D)

"Addiction is like a full-time job; they think about it 24/7" (policeman)

How might we support all residents in expressing their identity and their membership to different communities?

How might we reconcile conflicting experiences of privacy for drug users and residents by reinterpreting public space?

How might we use public installations to increase awareness of the passage of time?

Drug users are often perceived as a cohesive group, however, when looking closer, they do not necessarily feel as part of that community. They indeed tend to emphasize their other networks and identities.

Many drug users are in a vulnerable position and often have to take their drugs in public space, which becomes a conflicting touchpoint with other vesterbro residents who resent these sights.

Drug use can heavily influence the perception of time. the passing of days, months, and years is overshadowed by the recurrent need for a fix, getting money, buying the drug, and consuming it before anyone can take it away.



How might we...?

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