Graphical version

Royal College of Art

L. Bruce Archer archive


Reference code(s): GB 1134 LBA

Held at: Royal College of Art

Title: L. Bruce Archer archive

Date(s): 1960-2002

Level of description: Group

Extent: 34 boxes

Name of creator(s): Archer, Leonard Bruce (1922-2005)


Administrative/Biographical history:

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 für 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.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of L. Bruce Archer (1922-2005) comprising diaries, correspondence, conference proceedings, memoranda, offprints, lecture notes and other teaching materials. The archive is organised into five sections:

(1) Affiliations and posts;

(2) Lectures and articles;

(3) Conferences and events;

(4) Other projects;

(5) Miscellaneous correspondence and printed matter.

Among the key affiliations of Archer's career, some of the best represented include the Royal College of Art (c1974-2002; his detailed 'daily logs' provide description and analysis of College operations in the 1970s and 1980s), Hochschule für Gestaltung (c1960), and Ohio State University (1980-90).

Documentation of conference proceedings include schedules and printed literature and, in some cases, transcripts of papers delivered. Conferences covered include DATER (1991), ICED'81 (1981), and Culture.Space.History (Middle East Technical University, 1990). Teaching materials include a wide range of lectures from the 1960s to the 1990s, arranged by audience/institution, or subject. The archive also includes a series of VHS videos, prepared for the Indian Institute of Technology (n.d.). The 'hospital bed' project is represented through various tangential papers in different sections of the archive.


Language/scripts of material: English.

System of arrangement:

The archive is organised into five sections:

(1) Affiliations and posts;

(2) Lectures and articles;

(3) Conferences and events;

(4) Other projects;

(5) Miscellaneous correspondence and printed matter.

Conditions governing access:

Items in the collection may be consulted for the purpose of private study and personal research, within the controlled environment and restrictions of the RCA's Archives Room.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Items are made available for the purpose of private study and personal research only. A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Special Collections Manager, Royal College of Art, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner.

Finding aids:

A handlist/inventory is available from Special Collections, RCA Library. A digital copy of this may be emailed on request. Contact


Archival history:

This collection of papers, which covers a majority of Archer's career, including his professional posts, affiliations, writings, conferences and teaching materials, was donated to the Royal College of Art in 2007 by his daughter Miranda Archer. It represents the total of Archer's professional archive in the family's possession. The archive was subsequently catalogued and made available to researchers from September 2010. The Archive of Art & Design separately holds the institutional archive of the DDR, listed as: Royal College of Art, Department of Design Research, records, ca.1960 - 1986.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Donated to the Royal College of Art in 2007 by L Bruce Archer's daughter Miranda Archer.


Related material:

Many papers among the RCA archive and related collections complement the L. Bruce Archer Archive. In particular, the Peter Byrom papers reflect the management issues at the RCA c.1981-4 from another perspective. The archive of the Department of Design Research is held at the V&A's Archive of Art & Design, where it was transferred following the department's closure in 1984. Many papers among the Bruce Archer archive itself refer directly or indirectly to DDR activities and operations.



Prepared by Neil Parkinson, August 2010

Date(s) of descriptions: August 2011


Personal names

Corporate names