An App with No User in Mind – MEA India

Two days back, the announcement of a new one-stop-app for Android and iOS devices from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) caught my attention. The media reports portrayed it as the answer to all passport woes and the first app of its kind in the world!

Having written in the past about the usability issues of the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) website, I optimistically clicked over to the iOS store and downloaded the much lauded “MEA India” app. The enthusiasm however was short lived as I encountered one usability issue after another with this newly launched app.

The primary issue was that the app did not appear to have any specific target user. With no user personas guiding the design, the app had a life of its own far removed from the real-world needs of the user. In fact, it appears to be an app designed by a committee giving all the importance to their bosses and office hierarchies, and no inkling of the user needs.

The idea to create the app has evidently stemmed from somebody saying let’s create an app, and not with any motivation to solve the issues faced by the users visiting the MEA / PSK websites. After all, the MEA could have chosen to create responsive versions of their websites that would be usable across form factors.

When asked about the primary goal that the MEA App sought to address, Mr Syed Akbaruddin replied, “Providing information, to the extent we can, on a single platform is the goal”. Evidently, making an app was the end all aim and it was not about what the users needed or what would help them.

A cursory user of the app brought to light many usability concerns, including,

  • This was a classic example for user research NOT done. There was no real thought given to user needs or a primary reason to use it
  • The MEA App was not doing anything starkly differently from their website. In fact in many cases, a responsive version of the website would have helped a lot more
  • The app looked and behaved like a website: with a left navigation, a home button, a splash page with a rotary dial, and all that!
  • The app was in no way trying to improve readability & ease of use. With no real user need guiding it, the app was really lost in terms of what it offered

This prompted me to run a more detailed usability review of the app – to try and guide the next version of the app. The result is a detailed 26 page PDF report highlighting problem areas, navigation issues, and other hurdles to a good user experience.

The usability report of the MEA India app is now available for download at the PeepalDesign website.