Mantas Lilis

Service Design, Product Design, Framer X

MEU - Digital European Passport

Year: 2018
Project Type: Educational
Institution: CIID

︎ CIID | Interaction Design Programme’18

Project: Thesis Project
Role: Interaction Designer

MEU is a vision of a digital European passport that would be available to EU and non-EU citizens who are already living or are planning to live in Europe. The service reduces the stress of relocation by helping people manage all of their records and documents from governmental institutions. 

By gathering and compiling all documents into one place, MEU builds a new kind of country-agnostic identity which is available to anyone despite their nationality.

Being European in this context means living in Europe, regardless of if you are a citizen of one of the countries.

The concept

But why Europe? A problem space.

It’s started when I found out that in 2017 close to 43 million people — around 8% of the total EU population — moved either into Europe or from one country to another within Europe. One of the fundamental principles of EU is a free movement of workers. When coming to a new country all of these people have to go through certain processes in different kinds of institutions, dealing with a variety of required documents and permits. I created MEU to try to address specific challenges people face when moving.

Lost in translation

During my desk research, I compiled a document with all the steps a newcomer needs to take when applying for a residence permit in every European country. It was surprising to see how many of them presented official information so poorly online. For example, the Estonian residence permit form for newcomers is available only in Estonian — and that’s not the exception among other countries. Frequently, the required forms are only available in the local language. Even if the information is presented in English, some of the words might be left untranslated to prepare you for the fact that the further process will be in local language only. However, it’s confusing when you read the sentence that you have to bring your wohnungsgeberbestätigung to the meeting in the international house.

Some examples of words in different European languages you will have to know in order to apply for a residence permit

Localized data

Although Europe might feel unified, institutions here are mostly local and decentralized. There is no established network that lets them share data about newcomers or citizens. Even if you move inside Europe, you still have to do paperwork for every new country you move to. This is already annoying, but lack of communication between institutions can lead to even worse scenarios. During one interview, a person from Buenos Aires shared the story of how he was arrested in Zurich while flying home. “I thought everything was in my passport,” he said. Although he was already a resident in Denmark for 20 years, he left his documents at home. Since authorities in Switzerland didn’t have any information related to his Argentinian passport, he was stopped when he was about to leave the Schengen area. He had to have been carrying his Danish documents in order to authorize his status in Europe, but he assumed his one passport would be enough to prove his identity.

Different countries have no standardized way to share information about residents.

Managing countries after leaving

Let’s not forget that when you move to a new country you’re also leaving something behind. Questions like “Should I inform someone that I’m not here anymore?” are rarely addressed and difficult to research. During an interview with a person who had lived in the UK and left the country 4 years ago, he expressed his worries, “I have a bank account back there and I have no idea what happened with it. Maybe they’re looking for me or something?” This sort of uncertainty is not uncommon among those who are relocating.

It’s hard to keep track of the records you leave behind when you move. 

European identity

All these small practical challenges lie under the bigger umbrella of a European identity.
Even people who are coming from the EU are confused about their relationship with it. A 33-year-old German asked a thought-provoking question, “Am I German or am I European?” Those doubts and the fact that the EU itself does not issue passports inspired me to think about it as an opportunity.

A “European” identity is poorly defined

A few insights that helped me come up with the MEU concept

In the very beginning of the project, I was exploring assumptions people have about the EU, and it turns out that many people expect a borderless experience. My first thought was naturally, “Ohh policies… those are scary,” but wait! Some private businesses are also providing borderless experiences by easing the way we move around — getting health insurance abroad in one click, or not charging a fee for a transaction in a foreign currency. Good examples of that are mobile banks like Revolut, N26, or TransferWise. We can see that it’s not necessary to change policies in order to create borderless experiences for people.

As soon as I saw the opportunity to step away from designing for governmental institutions, I tried to understand what kind of information is held within identification documents. An interview with an expert from the field gave me the idea that identity is just a collection of records linked to an identifier. It might be your biometrics, a personal identification number issued by the government, or basically anything that can prove uniqueness. But the document that represents you might not just be a thing issued by authorities but also simply a collection of your records — which turned out to be the first prototype of MEU.

That prototype basically was a folder on your phone where you can keep copies of your personal documents. “But copies aren’t official and should be invalid,” you may be thinking. This turned out to not be entirely true. In a situation when the person doesn’t have the official document, even a copy of it can be extremely valuable. Imagine the person from Argentina mentioned before: if he had even a copy of a permit issued in Denmark, maybe he wouldn’t have been arrested. Trust is very important when it comes to interactions with authorities. Take this anecdote from a 29-year-old writer who lost her passport while traveling in Germany to show that sometimes system might work not exactly how we expect. Unfortunately, she left the passport on a bus a few hours before her train had to leave back to Denmark — where she was residing at the time. Although she wasn’t even a citizen of the European Union, Danish officials still allowed her entry when she showed them the copy of her passport on a laptop. Their trust that she wasn’t lying about her lost document was crucial for their decision — and the copy of her passport, even though it was just a JPEG image, became extremely valuable.

Prototyping was a significant part of the research

An example of a prototype used to gather feedback remotely

Early in the research phase of my process, I started producing small low-fi prototypes. I used these examples of flows during the interviews to help spark conversation and quickly immerse people into the problem space. It’s fascinating to see how much people are inspired to start talking about unexpected things by even a crude prototype The idea was to produce shared slides where people can see short comic-style stories and the interactions happening on screen between different actors. Having limited time and resources in mind, I tried to gather feedback about user flows remotely. I found the method really efficient when the goal is to reach lots of people in a small amount of time. Also, it was a great tool to keep in touch with the interviewees and show them the progress. I made sure to keep these iterations of the MEU interface at a low fidelity to prevent people from getting distracted by visual design so they could think more about the actions happening in a flow.

Different iterations of MEU

MEU, what does it do?

In order to show breaking points for the development of this service, I created a three-step roadmap and divided the prototype into parts which show its features for the present, near future, and far future.

Step 1: Gather all documents into one place

my research, I found out that people are storing their documents in very creative ways. Google Drive, Evernote, or locally on their hard drive were just some examples people shared. The first step for MEU would be collect and store all existing personal documents into one place to make them more manageable and easier to access when necessary. Although this step is easy to implement and doesn’t require the interaction with any institutions, it already holds value for people.

Step 2: Creating the interface with institutions

Once we have collected all personal documents and information, the second step would be to use it to create an interface with institutions. MEU would provide guidance and help the person understand the order of applications that are required. Since MEU has already gathered data about the person, all steps would be personalized. The prototype below shows how MEU manages the application process for a work visa in a new country. MEU uses already-uploaded documents and existing data held by former countries of residence to save the person from repeatedly entering the same information. For example, MEU would already know your name, birthday, country of origin, proof of insurance, etc. so all this data will simply be pre-filled. Same with documents, there is no need to look for and download the same documents over and over again while going through any of application process.

Step 3: Authorizing your identity

After the implementation of a second step, MEU will hold a significant amount of documents and records in your account. Those records will create your personal European identity. In the third part of the prototype, I tried to think how the interaction between two parties might look like when someone may need to present papers to authorities.

In this scenario, the person has to select the list of documents that are required
and simply beam it to the receiving party; the official will then get the information about the person and the list of selected valid documents.

Feasibility challenges and next steps

“It’s too good to be true” — I heard during one of the feedback sessions. I agree, but I also heard a chorus of “I need this right now!” I think it’s okay to look into a huge problem domain and try to find small steps that might be taken to solve the daily problems that people face. My idea was to propose something feasible like a possibility to digitize and store your documents in one place. On top of that, I aimed to share the vision where the service might evolve further to address current problems identified during the research.

There are many challenges that are preventing governments from willing to participate in this kind of project. Among them are security issues, legal complications, implementation time and cost, or negative public opinion about the significant change. There could be a few ways to bring the second step to a pilot phase. Either to identify the most popular country among newcomers and try to implement it there, or to find a small country where the government would be open for that kind of experiment and pilot the features there.

I would be glad to hear feedback from those of you who are still reading. Don’t be shy and send your messages to

I want to thank everyone who contributed to this project by advising, sharing thoughts during interviews or feedback sessions, and helping with production.