Experiential Interface Design for the Transference of Scientific Publications from University to SMEs

Marianne Lykke
Aalborg University

Sarai Løkkegaard
Aalborg University

Christian Jantzen
Aalborg University

Transferring knowledge from university to industry is commonly considered both beneficial and difficult to accomplish, specifically for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) that have limited resources for in-house research and development (R&D). A range of channels are used for knowledge transfer; these include generic pathways that accommodate knowledge transfer through e.g. patenting and scientific publications and relational pathways requiring interaction between the knowledge creator and the recipient enterprise e.g. through recruitment and consulting (De Zubielqui et al., 2015, 439). SMEs frequently use generic channels in the form of scientific publications, but the absorption of scientific knowledge is difficult. The main barriers include the short-term orientation of industrial research, universities’ and industry’s different missions and goals, and the inadequacy of academic research (by its very nature) to industrial interest (Decter, Bennett & Leseure, 2007; Barbosa and Romero, 2012). A functional interface between university and industry must exist.
We investigated the the situation and information practice among SMEs in a Danish context through an empirical study, with the aim to add to our knowledge about SMEs information practice and knowledge transfer and to use this insight to develop suggestions for interface design for a generic knowledge pathway to scientific publications. Only few studies discuss interface design and how to increase the absorptive capacity of SMEs.
The methodology was qualitative and exploratory, and based on the iterative Life Cycle Model by Preece, Rogers and Sharp (2015). The model was used to guide the research process and transform findings from the practice study of the SMEs situation to interface design (Nicolini, 2012). During the transformation process, we carried out several iterations. First, we presented our findings and design suggestions at a workshop with a group of SMEs. Afterwards, we developed a first sketch of the interface design based on the workshop findings. This sketch was later usability tested by employees from the participating SMEs. In the present paper, we present the findings from the practice study, workshop and usability tests, and discuss how they may be transferred to the interface design for a generic knowledge pathway of scientific publications.
The study provided a nuanced insight into SMEs’ ways of dealing with new knowledge. Generally, the SMEs look for knowledge in two situations; when they have pressing problems to solve, and when they seek inspiration for new business opportunities. The SMEs consult many different channels in order to find the needed knowledge, and the scientific knowledge from universities is not their first choice. SMEs see scientific knowledge as abstract, theoretical. From the perspective of SMEs scientific publications do not inform clearly what problems they address or solve. They do not present how SMEs can gain from the scientific knowledge, how they can use it, and why they need scientific knowledge
Based on the findings from the practice study, the workshop and the usability tests, we provide suggestions on how we can design an interface that supports the SMEs’ situations and information practices. Key qualities for interface design is involvement, simplicity, clearness and concreteness. The design suggestions include simple, straightforward navigation allowing the user quickly to browse through subject categories to find solutions for specific problems or to become inspired. We recommend short sentences, presentation of few main contributions and results, expressed in precise, layman terms. Clear and concrete descriptions are essential to provide understanding for the content, what is key knowledge, why useful, and how to use. We suggest ‘teasers in the teaser’, to catch the attention, involve and convince the SME user that scientific knowledge is useful. Not hip teasers, but precise, concrete information about what, why, how scientific publications may solve problems and move the enterprise.