Academic Case Study — July 2022 – September 2022

A harm reduction app that allows users to reduce the risks and harmful effects of the recreational drugs they use.

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Case Study

The Problem

From 2000-2014 alone, ‘mainstream media sources have reported at least 96 deaths attributed to drug overdoses/poisonings in the context of music festival attendance.’

Turris, S., & Lund, A. (2017)


To reduce the rate of casualty incidents due to drug usage at EDM events


I believe that attendees at EDME’s are reluctant to seek medical help unless they are in urgent need of care. If EDME attendees are encouraged to use preventative medical services, we will see reduced rates of patients requiring urgent treatment.

EDM event attendees have a strong sense of community

This however, can vary depending on the event. Some events nurture supportive communities by promoting pro-social behaviour, while others may develop a reputation for a rowdier, disrespectful audience.

“I think there's a very strong sense of community within the EDM space. Taking care of each other, even though you're all just complete strangers.”

Key Themes

Emergency response is a shared responsibility

Drug-related medical emergencies often leave those in need physically and mentally unable to seek help. This is made worse with the large crowds and blaring music and lights. That is why the event staff rely on bystanders or the individual’s friends to get their attention, which results in many delays to receive medical aid.

“You rely on bystanders or you rely on an individual being seen to be signalling or in need of distress.”

There is a lack of knowledge regarding safer drug use and on-site medical care at EDM events

Younger audiences and people taking drugs for the first time display particularly risky behaviour. Most interviewees did not use on-site care services due to unawareness of resources available, fear of judgement or legal ramifications, or unwillingness to expend effort to use these resources.

“I didn't even know there was a med bay.”

“We were definitely very scared about approaching anyone and letting them know that (our friend) had taken MDMA. We were pretty young, and we didn't know much about anything back then.”

Chosen Direction

How might we make harm reduction more accessible for EDME attendees in order to reduce the rate of high-risk health cases at EDM events?


Experience Mapping

An embodiment of shared goals, painpoints and behaviours gleaned from my interviews

Evaluating opportunities for intervention in my target user’s experience, I chose to take a proactive approach and focus on the phase before Kevin attends the event. This is when Kevin is actively seeking information on how to take drugs and is in a clear-headed state of thinking.

Exploring Ideas

Chosen Feature for the Minimum Viable Product

Allowing users to view drug-checking results for toxic drugs that may be a match with theirs, prompting them to take proactive measures and reduce overdose risk.

Initial Task Flow

Low Fidelity Wireframes

Wireframes—Version 1

View Prototype

3 rounds of user testing were conducted over Zoom as well as in person, with a total of 13 user testers.

Round 1

Due to difficulty understanding technical terms and jargon, users were not able to understand parts of the process, as well as some of the data displayed in the results

Users had a false sense of security of the safety of their drug after seeing what they perceived to be a low amount of toxicity found in drugs that shared the same characteristics as theirs

User Testing


Before users can proceed, the app makes it clear that drug-checking results are meant to viewed as a general reference guide only, and are not an accurate indicator of the safety of their drug.

Increasing understanding

To aid users in knowing what options to select when choosing their drug characteristics, they have the added option of viewing characteristic descriptions

Wireframes—Version 2

View Prototype

User Testing—Round 2

A lack of knowledge of what drug-checking is greatly impacts their understanding of the app, perhaps an onboarding process is required.

The statistics shown in the results are confusing, and users don't immediately know how to digest that information.

Drug warnings in lieu of drug check statistics

To prevent users from making their own conclusions on how safe their drug is, they now can only view toxic drug warnings that have been officially issues by drug checking and overdose prevention sites across Canada. The information presented is also much more decisive and easier to absorb.

Helpful tips and advice

In the unfortunate event that users may have ingested these drugs, viewing a drug warning alert also sets users up to be able to identify the situation that there in, and guide them in how they should react.

Wireframes—Version 3

View Prototype

User Testing—Round 3

Users do not expect there to be any additional information under the drug warnings

Increasing visibility

In the results page, the call-to-action section that prompts users to visit a drug-checking site is moved up to be visible in the initial viewport so that users are aware that they can continue scrolling for additional content.

Wireframes—Version 4

View Prototype

Brand and Icon Exploration

Having finalized my mid-fidelity prototype, it was time to inject some storytelling into the product!

Final Logo

Marketing Site

To advertise Vare's services, a marketing site was also created.

Introducing Vare

Vare is a harm reduction app that aims to promote safer drug use among EDM event attendees by offering real-time toxic drug alerts and safety tips. It also encourages users to access drug-checking services near them.

Convenient and easy to use

Drug-checking alerts provided by organizations across Canada are all centralized in one app, displayed in the same comprehensive format, and rephrased to use everyday language. These alerts warn users of toxic drugs that may be circulating in their area. For our target audience–who may not be inclined to expend much effort to increase their physical safety–this is an effective, convenient alternative that increases the chances of users avoiding substances that have a high risk of overdose.

Only see what's relevant

By taking a photo of one’s drug, Vare identifies its characteristics and only shows users alerts for drugs that may be a match with theirs, so that they can quickly find what they’re looking for. 

Helping you help your friends

In the event that the toxic drug is ingested, Vare teaches users to recognize symptoms in their friends earlier, so that they can seek help proactively. The app also provides emergency advice and tips for users to act upon while they await medical attention, as the volatility of an EDME environment could delay the service they need. Icons and summarized points are used so that the information presented is easily digestible.

Guiding you to potentially life-saving resources

To be 100% sure of the safety of their drug, Vare provides a call-to-action for users to seek out drug-checking services near them, a resource they may not have been aware of. It also reduces the obscurity and stigma against these services by providing information on how they work, and using non-judgemental language throughout. By encouraging users to take advantage of this service, the risk they take using substances at EDM events decreases greatly. 


More than just EDM events

With the overdose crisis in Canada affecting much more than EDM event attendees, I would explore expanding my target audience. I hope to reach out to drug-checking organizations in Canada to gather their feedback on my proposed product, and better gauge its feasibility.

The value of iteration

Having followed the “double diamond” design process, I saw how much progress I could make with continuous iteration and falling back on step-by-step processes, instead of trying to perfect everything on the first go.

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