This fall, we’ve been busy preparing the launch of a new program for web startups, called AQ Lift. Our goal with Lift is to give startups a way to quickly raise the quality of their product’s user experience design, with some help from our design team.

Update: AQ Lift was launched on October 28th.

Last Wednesday, we tested the program with a half day design session at Open Network Lab (ON Lab). ON Lab is an incubator for global-minded Japanese engineers, led by Hiro Maeda, and co-funded by Digital Garage, NetPrice and others.

Chris Palmieri and Paul Baron in a design session with ABCLoop

Chris and I met with four teams for one hour each, to test out their apps and services:

  • Find JPN – a marketplace for tourists looking for authentic Japanese experiences.
  • Compath – a social location discovery application
  • Pirka – an app to encourage yourself and people you know to pick up litter.
  • ABCloop – an online community for social language learning.

Together with each team, we sketched design changes, rewrote copy, and simplified user interactions. Each team left the session with a list of improvements they could start implementing the next day, and hopefully a slightly more user-centered approach to their product.

We went into the sessions with close to no prior experience with the products, allowing us to play the role of a user first encountering the service. This revealed ambiguities in how each product communicates what you can do with it, and why that’s valuable to prospective users. We also discussed what it takes to earn a new sign up, and how that might differ from what it takes to retain that user over time.

For us, it was a very satisfying workshop. Each of the four teams were bubbling with smart questions, spirited opinions, and a singular dedication to make their product better. We can’t wait to see how each product evolves over the next few weeks and months.

To hear more about our experience at ON Lab, as well as the state of Lean UX in Japan, join us at the upcoming New Context Conference on Thursday, November 3rd. Chris will be joining a panel session with Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab) and Brian Flanagan (HyperTiny) to discuss this year’s theme, Lean Startup Camp Tokyo.