Effective university-industry collaboration has become a major focus for governments in recent years. Universities are increasingly expected to play a greater role in the innovation system and evidence their contribution to economic development. At the same time, the growth in research quality assessment exercises makes it imperative that the excellence of research conducted in commercially-driven activities can be appropriately evaluated. This paper explores the challenge of reconciling commercially-focused activity and research quality assessment in design. Semi- structured interviews were conducted with thirteen experts including representatives from the design discipline, other applied academic disciplines, research quality assessment leaders and commercial designers. The interviews identified a number of barriers to demonstrating research excellence in commercially-driven projects. These were classified as barriers resulting from: the nature of industry/academic relationships; the nature of the project; and the nature of the research quality assessment. It is concluded that there is a need to build a simple, easily usable framework for assessing the research potential of commercially-driven design projects from the outset to ensure that the appropriate processes are put in place to communicate research conducted within them.