IRMA is a mobile app for identity management that resembles a digital wallet on your phone. It allows you to collect verified information about yourself, such as your name and address, and to store this information on your device. IRMA then makes it possible to use this information to log in and access websites and to sign documents digitally.1

Two remarkable qualities distinguish the IRMA app: First, with IRMA, users only reveal necessary information about themselves. To watch a particular movie or play a certain game online, you would, for instance, only prove that you are older than 16, and reveal nothing else about yourself. Second, the personal information you collect in the app is exclusively stored on your phone (rather than also in the cloud). Even the organization behind IRMA cannot see your information.2 This not only makes IRMA quite unique, but also very privacy-friendly. Unfortunately, when observing users in the past, it became apparent that these concepts are so unfamiliar to users, that they can be difficult to grasp.

The fact that IRMA is so different from other apps, is one of the main challenges around the IRMA user experience (UX).3 One of the questions we are facing is, for instance, how to design the interface in a way that shows that the user’s data is only stored locally, on the user’s own phone. One of our project goals is to ensure IRMA is both easy to use and easy to understand, even though it is so unique.

Another UX challenge is that IRMA aims to encourage users to stop and think carefully about the privacy-decisions they face. In particularly, users should not share sensitive data, like their social security number, carelessly. At the same time, we also do not want to slow down people too much and make the experience annoying or unpleasant. Hence, we need to find a delicate balance between designing a smooth experience and placing some friction to slow down users when they are asked to share information with others. UX research is certainly needed to get this balance right.4

Finally, IRMA also requires usability and accessibility research for the same reason any other app needs it: If you want to make sure an app can and will be used by the indented user group, you need to test it with users. Of course, IRMA is no different. IRMA was originally developed with a strong focus on the underlying technology and little attention for interface design, usability and accessibility. However, with IRMA reaching the hands of more and more users, the focus has shifted and UX has become more important than ever. We are looking forward to contribute to this work with the IRMA made easy project and plan to make IRMA easy to use for users with the widest range of capabilities.

  1. Find out more about IRMA’s functionality on the official website: website. ↩︎

  2. Learn more about the organisation behind IRMA here: Privacy by Design Foundation ↩︎

  3. The user experience (UX) is a person’s overall experience of a product, including, e.g., their emotions and attitudes towards the product. UX research is usually concerned with understanding users and their needs, skills and values and the experience they have with a certain product. The insights from UX research are typically used in the design process to ensure a product provides a great experience. ↩︎

  4. Update: Bart Jacobs and Hanna Schraffenberger have addressed this challange in more detail in an article entitled Friction for Privacy. You can find it here: ECSP-KPN-2020-Jacobs-Schraffenberger.pdf ↩︎