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Bridging The Gap Between Academic And Industrial Research

By July 12, 2013June 19th, 2020Child centered design, kids & media, UX

A lot of research has been conducted to understand how children develop. Cognitive, physical, and social skills have been tested, observed, and noted down in detail numerous times – per age group. In line with child developmental, there is also an increasing amount of research available on children and media usage to answer questions like:

  • What kind of media is popular among kids?
  • How much do they use it?
  • And what are the effects?

These are all important questions. However, there are more questions to ask. Questions that are just as important, but get ignored way too often. These are:

  • How should media look like in order to have a positive impact on child development?
  • How can we improve media to make it more age appropriate?
  • How can children help us make media better?

The difference between these questions mainly lies in their context.

The first group of questions is usually covered in the academic field. They relate directly to child development, which is a traditional and widely accepted field of research. Results are easy to scale and mostly they are valid for a long time. The perfect scenario for an academic research paper.

However, the second group of questions comes from the industry. They are rather specific and not very scalable. For every product designed, they have to be asked over again. They require quick results, which usually cannot be reused for other projects.

Here are 5 reasons why research is conducted on a large scale in the academic field, but not so much in the industry. And what we can do about it:

1. Time

Certainly one of the most critical point for conducting research is time.

In the academic world, time is not really an issue. The academic year follows a strict schedule and usually research is fitted into that schedule with high priority and thus low pressure of time. It’s not seldom that one research project is stretched over several months, if not years.

In the industry, however, time is money. As a consequence, there is very little time available for research – especially not the kind that puts the product development process on hold.

Yet, research in the industry is important and we have to find ways to establish it as such. It is important to realize that – even though traditional research is time consuming – it doesn’t have to be.

For example, research can be conducted on one aspect, while developing another. User testing doesn’t mean the entire process takes longer. Actually, the opposite is the case. When conducting user research throughout the whole product development, the final product will be much more refined, user friendly, and more likely to sell successfully.

2. Complexity

A common criteria of academic research is its complexity. Some research proposals are even declined because of a lack of complexity.

This can be a good thing because a lot of times, complex research also offer great and detailed insights. And again, if enough people work on one project for, let’s say an entire academic year, complexity is not really an issue.

In the industry, it is an issue. Here quick and actionable results matter. Simplicity and a clear, forward research is much more attractive and more accepted. Not only because it’s faster, but also, because academic research requires certain analytical skills that are not necessarily at hand.

When conducting research in the industry, a visual presentation of key results is more important than the underlying methodologies used to get the results.

3. Financial resources

Another aspect are financial resources. In the academic field, research has a natural right to exist. There are even state subsidies to ensure a certain level of research efforts.

Even if financial budgets are restricted or happen to be exhausted, academic research usually gets postponed, rather than canceled.

In the industry, there are fixed budgets. Most of the time, they are very tight and don’t foresee any research at all. In case research efforts are included, they are usually rather small and certainly not flexible.

Besides, in the industry, it is important to sell your research. By selling I mean that any research efforts should have a direct effect – either by lowering the overall costs for the project, or increasing the sales figures.

By keeping research simple and cost efficient, it is much easier to convince people from the industry that their investment will eventually pay off.

4. General acceptance

In the academic world, sometimes, research is conducted for the sake of conducting research. If you don’t like doing research, you shouldn’t be an academic. As long as you have an innovative hypothesis and some good research questions, no one will doubt your intention.

Research in the industry is much more difficult to sell. Most people – especially those that don’t have an academic background – don’t see the importance of good research. They don’t care about theories. They want facts.

At the same time, they trust experts to know what they are doing. For example, if a game developer hires a designer for a new app for kids, they trusts the designer to be familiar with their target age group. At the end of the day, that’s what makes an expert, right?

Well, not quite. I can have a pretty good idea of what kids like at a certain age and what they should be able to do. However, as long as I don’t test my concept, I won’t know for sure. Children are not predictable – even less so than adults.

5. Personal interest

As I mentioned before, if you are not interested in research, you shouldn’t be an academic. Research is a central aspect of the academic world and people (1) understand what it is and how it works, and (2) love doing it.

People in the industry are usually different. Either they have never been in contact with academic research, or they didn’t like it during their studies and went straight for a career in the industry, or they used to be part of the academic world and decided to leave it for one reason of the other. There are actually very few people, who work in the industry and still see the value of academic research.

In order to convince the industry to conduct research and involve children in their product development process, we have to make it more attractive – more tangible.

At the end of the day…

Research is important – in both worlds. However, we need to break it down and make it more digestible for people in the industry. User research can be quick and cost efficient. It can be fitted into an existing product development process. And most of all, it can offer practical and hands-on results for quick implementation.

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