ShortCUT - adding healthy digital friction to enable LEARNing 


Learning new things is an empowering experience that keeps us healthy and psychologically fit. At the dawn of internet, many imagined a democratic future where everyone with access to the internet could learn anything, anywhere, anytime. Unfortunately, Internet has not been optimized for educational purposes but for a few large cooperations and their financial interests. Instead of unlocking an educational potential, internet usage has made many users more narrow-minded because of personalized content and advertisement. As this data-driven economy has resulted in filter bubbles, cluttering of information and dark patterns nudging (controlling?) our behavior, making the most of the information online is hard. To learn things digitally, an enormous amount of self-discipline is required. To find relevant information and digest it requires concentration sharp enough to ignore all notifications and urges to “quickly check this website or that inbox”. Elegantly designed paths that exploit our vulnerabilities to use product X or Y more, leaves us with little control over our focus and time.

TIMEFRAME     10 weeks

YEAR                 Fall 2019

SCHOOL           Umeå Institute of design


My conceptual response is a fictional service called Shortcut. Shortcut is a service that empowers users to take control of their time and invest it in meaningful activities. By removing distractions and curating relevant and diverse information it supports learning and hobbies. By running its searches through sets of fictional/fake data profiles it generates diverse information while fully protecting the integrity of the user. Shortcut takes advantage of the current data pattern of profiling users based on their online behavior, but builds on this existing digital infrastructure to care for human integrity and experience.

Shortcut consists of a digital interface which the user connects to its devices, and sets up what the user wants to learn more about. Once a learning session is started, all devices is locked for the duration of that time and diverse information is presented for learning. To encourage social learning and learning in a context, the platform may also connect the user with local communities and resources.

INSPIRATION     Susanna Zuboff and her work on Surveillance capitalism

CREDITS            To our tutor Heather Wiltse, her brilliant mind and spot-on                                      way of teaching.



The last step of setup is exposing the backend of Shortcuts randomly generated data profiles and how this leads to diverse information. An Information Map is showing what information regions are included in the search results. The user may interact with the information map by clicking on specific regions to find out more and to drag Shortcuts bubble to include more regions. (Information regions are a metaphor of information bubbles.)

SETUP Step 1: Learning Preferances
SETUP Step 1: Learning Preferances

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SETUP Step 2: Connect devices
SETUP Step 2: Connect devices

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SETUP Step 4: View/edit information map
SETUP Step 4: View/edit information map

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SETUP Step 1: Learning Preferances
SETUP Step 1: Learning Preferances

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To setup Shortcut the user first adds what they want to learn about, their current level of knowledge, learning preferences and timing for learning sessions. Secondly, all potentially distracting devices are connected. This means that when a learning session starts, all connected devices will be entirely blocked except for calls, SMS and using Shortcut.



During a learning session, the information may be presented in two modes: “Path” or “Map”. In Path mode, a proposed learning path for a learning session is created including exercises and reflection moments. The user may change the recommended path to better suit their daily preference. By changing the path, users help training the system to present more favorable content. In Map mode, the user may explore the content however they’d like. Map mode is great for going deep into specific content such as a Scientific article or audiobook, but it also increases the risk of endlessly scrolling through content. Shortcut will remind the user if the scrolling gets out of hand.


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This project was part of a 10-week design concept course called Fluid Assemblages. 7 out of 10 weeks consisted of lectures, seminars, guest teachers, discussions and exercises for discussion, covering topics such as: Privacy, data collection, surveillance capitalism, and digital interconnectedness. “Fluid Assemblages” is an expression from our research community at UID defined like this: “Contemporary digital things are more like fluid assemblages than stable objects. They are composed of a variety of components and connections, including resources provided by various platforms and other kinds of infrastructure. They change over time and in response to activities and other inputs they are configured to register. And in doing this they collect data that they feed back into the networks of which they are a part, and to other actors that extract different kinds of value from those networks and data generated by end-users’ use.“

This course challenged us to work with fluid assemblages: to assemble responsive things from a variety of components, to build on top of existing platforms, and to care for multiple users and types of use. While these types of things are often developed through progressive optimization concerning certain metrics (and there can certainly be a place for that), this course asked us to bring our design skills and sensibilities to bear — especially a concern for meaningful wholes and care for human experience and integrity.