The Gap in Research Between Academic and Company

What is the difference? 

Companies always claim they do research. And they believe it is important.But from my observation, this definition of research is different from what is taught in design school. 

There are three distinctive characters. First of all, company research aims at knowing "what", what sells, what is out there. Academic research aims at knowing "why", why people are buying what they buy. Secondly, company rely on market research. By market research I mean competitor research. What are in the market already, what they can do to fill the gap. This type of information is direct and obvious. Academic research relies on user observation, interviews. This type of information is chaos and needs high intelligence to analysis. Finally, evaluation of a successful research is how much money it can generates for the company. Innovation is not expected if it is not generating profits. And evaluation of a successful academic research is contribution. Discover the subtle changes, or rewrite the old notion. In a word, company research is to main safety of the business while academic research is more adventurous. The expectation for research from a company perspective is to generate profits. And company also would love to do what they have been doing to make sure the market share. Academic research is expected to discover, and be the first one to claim a fact that have never been seen before. 

Acknowledgement of shortage in my observation

These results are generated from my observation of the company that I am working with. It has limitations because this company is a lighting manufacturer aimed at middle age Americans.  They distributed lighting fixtures to showroom owners and online retailers. Not dealing with end users.  And their goal is to focus on middle class and builders. Not high end market because they do not have a distribution channel. Their strategy works for them and keep them survive through 2008. 

my observation lacks other types of business. I have never got a chance to observe how those smartest and bravest people work that leading the trend. Two companies that I have worked with are all traditional industry and aimed at being middle. I would love to have this opportunity to sense, observe and feel how different are they. 

What Can I do in Closing the Gap?

This type of company is not ambitious but still, loves what they do. They want “safety”. They don't mind become a follower as long as it is safe. They are changing as well, but very slowly following what is going on in the market. In this situation, academic design research has little power while facing numbers. Research needs to soften takes aways between, iterations, improvements and inventions. 

And researchers who go through higher educated level all have this ambitions to change the world, or the industry. When facing this type of safety business, we need to know that research is aimed at helping their business. Think in their shoes. I would suggest to give 2 safety directions. And two other choices, one more ambitious, and one that is more advantageous.  It would be time saving just give them what they want, but it would degrade yourself and your value by not providing deeper insights. 

What can I do further in changing the situation

A most valuable question after this observation is how we can translate academic research in the language of value of a company? What is the value that created by academic research? If it only can sit in peaceful unpractical environments, that means there is a lacking in the knowledge system. If a knowledge doesn't help to change in changing the behaviors of people, it would be eventually forgotten. Design is not hyper theoretical, it is more practical. Gaging the gap between academic research and company's expectation is giving life hood to research industry. 


xiaowen shao