L[eonard] Bruce Archer (1922-2005) was an engineering designer and academic credited with helping to transform the process of design in the 1960s. As research fellow and later professor of design research at the Royal College of Art, Archer argued that design was not merely a craft-based skill but should be considered a knowledge-based discipline in its own right, with rigorous methodology and research principles incorporated into the design process. His initially controversial ideas would become pervasive and influential.
After early training at what is now City University, and a role as guest professor at Hochschule fur Gestaltung, Ulm (1960-1), Archer went on to spend a majority of his career at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London, until his retirement in 1988. From his initial appointment as research fellow within Misha Black's Industrial Design (Engineering) research unit, Archer ascended to head his own Department of Design Research (DDR) for 13 years (1971-84). Archer's innovative methods were first tested on a project in the 1960s to design improved equipment for the National Health Service. One strand of these studies, Kenneth Agnew's proposal for a hospital bed, culminated in the perfection of Agnew's design through a rigorous testing process and the inclusion of systems-level analysis and evidence-based design. The bed went on to become standard issue across the NHS.
Archer's influence extended further through his series of articles in Design magazine in the 1960s, in which he advocated six basic stages of process: programming, data collection, analysis, synthesis, development and communication. In this, he anticipated and described concepts which would later be universally understood by designers in now-familiar terms such as 'quality assurance' or 'user-centred research'. Later successes included the DDR's influential study on the importance of design across the school curriculum (1976); from this the RCA established the Design Education Unit for teachers. The DDR itself was closed - peremptorily in Archer's view - by incoming rector Jocelyn Stevens in 1984. Stevens instead hoped to give Archer College-wide responsibility for embedding research in all departments; to this end Archer was made Director of Research, a post he held until retirement in 1988. In retirement he remained active as president of the Design Research Society, and as a provider of short courses to various institutions, including a return to the RCA to deliver his Research Methods Course over several years.
From the guide to the L. Bruce Archer archive, 1960-2002, (Royal College of Art Special Collections)