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The Design Methods Movement 

The context for Archer's methodological preoccupations lay in new 
approaches to the design of artefacts, from buildings to consumer goods, 
which came to brief prominence during the 1960's. While the theories 
which underlay these approaches were being intensively debated at Dim, 
advocates in Britain and North America took a largely atheoretical and 
pragmatic approach. In this form, new proposals for how design should be 
carried out became known as 'Design Methods'. The Design Methods 
movement originated in Britain but achieved a following in North America 
and some European countries.^ In essence, the movement's rather 
disparate protagonists argued that design problems were becoming too 
complex to be solved by designers working independently and largely 
intuitively. This situation would be alleviated by 'opening up' and 
systematising what really went on in the process of design. Input from 
many sources rather than just the designer would be allowed for, especially 
at crucial, early stages of the process. In particular, information about user 
needs would produce a closer fit between these and the designed artefact. 

For a recent reappraisal of the Design Metliods movement (in tlie context of clianging 
definitions of user needs in arcliitecture) see C. Tliomas Mitcliell, Redefining Designing, 
From Form to Experience, New York, Van Nostrand Reinliold, 1993. Nigel Cross (ed), 
Developments in Design Metliodology, Chichester, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1984, is a 
comprehensive collection of writing in the field from the beginning of the Design Methods 
movement. See also Cross, 'The Recent History of Post-Industrial Design Methods', 1980. 


It followed that if the design process was made explicit and systematised, 
design methods could be drawn up which were 'step-by-step, 
teachable/learnable, repeatable and communicable procedures for the act 
of designing'.^ 

The implication that the creative process of design could be reduced 
to a systematic method, and the complex, often mathematically based 
techniques advocated for doing this, brought opposition from practising 
designers, who never embraced the movement to any extent. However, 
Design Methods became for a while a prominent subject of debate 
amongst academics in the British design world, particularly in the field of 
architecture.^ Some participants clearly saw more in Design Methods than 
just a solution to individual designer's problems with increasingly complex 
briefs. As a theoretical underpinning for design and architecture, they 
offered potential advantage in the university setting, where these subjects 
had to compete with longer established and more highly theoreticised 

The movement's founders, both British, are generally held to be the 
mathematician-turned-architect, Christopher Alexander, and J. Christopher 
Jones, an industrial designer who had become increasingly involved with 
ergonomics.^ Jones co-organized the first Design Methods Conference, 

^Cross, 'The Recent History of Post-Industrial Design Methods', p. 50. 

^Architects already had to deal with large numbers of statutory building and planning 
regulations which lent themselves to systematic treatment. On the other hand, 
aesthetics and creativity traditionally played a large role in architectural design. 


Cross (ed), Developments in Design Methodology, p.237. 


See Mitchell, Redefining Designing, pp. 38-60 on Jones' and Alexander's involvement with 
Design Methods and their subsequent careers. 


held at Imperial College, London, In 1962.^ In 1964, Alexander published 
his PhD thesis, the influential Notes on the Synthesis of Form, and in 1970 
Jones produced the first edition of the textbook, Design Methods7 For a 
decade, Jones taught an experimental course entitled Design Technology 

at UMIST intended to: 

extend the education of architects, engineers and others to include the new 
applied sciences that are increasingly relevant to designing and 
planning the physical environment . . . computing, ergonomics 
(human factors engineering), operations research, systems 
engineering, and systematic design methods have been blended 
together under the title 'design technology' . . . ^ 

Jones and Alexander (separately) devised design methods which stressed 
user involvement, fitness for purpose and the ideal of a better built world. 
In particular, Jones waged a campaign against the scale drawing as 'a very 
weak model of the product in use ... a method of designing a product in 
isolation from manufacture and use'.^ Alexander offered branching 
'pictograms' as an alternative, most famously used in his method for the 
design of an Indian village, which was presented in an early form at the 
1962 Conference.^" Both Jones and Alexander subsequently abandoned 
Design Methods, the former for more extreme forms of experimentation 
with creative processes. By the 1970's, Jones was working, for example, 
on Enoesque sound compositions and was fascinated by the role of 

J.C. Jones and D. Thornley (eds), Conference on Design Methods, Oxford, Pergamon, 1963. 

Christopher Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form, Harvard, Harvard University Press, 
1964, J.C. Jones, Design Methods, Wiley, Chichester, 1970. 


Mitchell, Redefining Designing, p.46. 


Quoted in Cross, 'Recent History of Post-Industrial Design Methods', p.51. 

Christopher Alexander, 'The Determination of Components for an Indian Village' in Jones and 
Thornley (eds), Conference on Design Methods, pp. 83-1 14. 


randomness and chance, rather than rationalism, in composition.^^ 
Alexander also rescinded his earlier views. Asked in 1971 what areas 
future work in design methodology should centre on, he replied 'I would 
say forget it, forget the whole thing. Period. '^^ In retrospect, Jones wrote of 

Design Methods that: 

Rationality, originally seen as the means to open up the intuition to aspects 
of life outside the designer's experience, became, almost overnight, 
a toolkit of rigid methods that obliged designers and planners to act 
like machines, deaf to every human cry and incapable of laughter'. ^^ 

For both Jones and Alexander were 'anti-expert', and had a perspective not 
shared by all who published and spoke in favour of Design Methods during 
the 1960's. Many of these advocates saw little difficulty in using the 
theories and methods of the natural sciences, often in forms adopted by 
the applied human sciences, in traditional and 'cyborg' form, to explicate, 
and therefore manipulate, the process of design. Particularly, but not only, 
among engineers, it was considered largely a matter of applying the 
appropriate scientific expertise, with appropriately scientific rigour. The first 
contributor to the 1962 Design Methods Conference, for example, spoke 
on problems of town and regional planning. He cited with approval Norbert 
Wiener's opinion that ' "Econometrics" ', with which he grouped all the 
'semi-precise' sciences, 'will never get very far until the observations of the 
quantities with which econometrics operates are subject to the same 
criteria of precision and rigor as the dynamics by which they are 

Mitchell, Redefining Designing, pp. 56-60. 


Quoted in Cross, Developments in Design Methodology, p. 31 2. 

1 3 

J.C. Jones, Designing Designing, London, Architecture, Design and Technology Press, 1991, 


combined'. ^"^ A second contributor spoke on the relevance of system(sic) 
engineering to design. ^^ A third dealt with the psychology of communication 
in problem-solving groups. ^^ Yet another offered a 'cybernetic view' of the 

design process, in which he asserted that: 

The main contention is that a design, R, can be identified with the shape of 
a trace left upon a malleable environment, B (such as an image in 
paint upon a piece of canvas, a set of instructions, like a music 
score or a choreography), when a perceptual process [his italics], 

A= [Ai,^A2, ^...A^A] 

which is exteriorised in B, converges as a result of adaptation or learning to 
a stable form a* that satisfies an objective of the form "Maximise e 
(X)" (where is a functional, determined by a property of B, and x e 
Xare states of B, specified in a suitable state description). We also 
insist that A is partly localized in a "designer", denoted A, who 
"learns" and "perceives". But A may be a man, or a group of men, or 
a mechanism, without restriction.^'' 

It is perhaps not hard to see why rank and file designers found writing such 
as this either incomprehensible or irrelevant, nor why critics of Design 
Methods objected to 'the machine language, the behaviourism, the 
continued attempt to fix the whole of life into a logical framework'. ^^ Tracing 


L.S. Jay, 'A Systematic Approach to the Problems of Town and Regional Planning', in Jones 
and Thornley (eds), Conference on Design Methods, pp.1 1-22:16. Wiener, the originator of 
cybernetics, coined the term in 1947 (from the Greek for steersman) to convey the primary 
concern of cybernetics with the man-machine relationship and with information rather than 
matter or energy. Maurice Trask, The Story of Cybernetics, London, Studio Vista, 1971 , 


W. Gosling, The Relevance of System Engineering', in Jones and Thornley, Conference on 
Design Methods, pp.23-32. 

B.N. Lewis, 'Communication in Problem-solving Groups', in Jones and Thornley (eds), 
Conference on Design Methods, pp.1 69-1 84. 

G. Pask, The Conception of a Shape and the Evolution of a Design', in Jones and Thornley 
(eds), Conference on Design Methods, pp 153-167:153. Gordon Pask had his own 
department of cybernetics at Brunei University in North London. 

1 8 

Jones, quoted in Cross (ed), Developments in Design Methodology, p. 306. 


the roots of these features, however, and unpicking their embodiment in 
artefacts designed using these kinds of methods, offers insight into the 
eventual specification for the King's Fund Bed. Archer became a leading 
exponent of the Design Methods movement. His own method of systematic 
design, along with those of Jones and Alexander, was regarded as one of 
the 'first generation' design methods. While not quite so abstruse as the 
'cybernetic' approach quoted above, it certainly shared its principal 
assumption: the methods of the natural sciences, and the human sciences 
when closely modelled on them, were legitimately applicable to the process 
of design. 

Science, human science and operational research 

The expansion of 'science' in the years after World War Two is well 
documented. ^^ This encompassed not only a hugely increased scale of 
enterprise within the natural sciences, but a consolidating of the much 
debated view that they were the obvious and appropriate model for the 
newer, human sciences. The early twentieth century had seen 
considerable methodological debate in psychology, anthropology and 
sociology.^" By the second half of the century, the natural science model 
was normative and other approaches were largely defined in opposition to 

^^Barry Barnes, About Science, Oxford, Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1985, pp.3-6, 28-36, and K. Pavitt 
and M. Warboys, Science, Technology and the Modern Industrial State, London, 
Butterworth, 1977. 


See Smith, History of the Human Sciences, Ch. 17, 'Natural Science and Objectivity', pp. 636- 
700, and Piatt, A History of Sociological Research Methods in America, Ch 3, 'Scientism', 


it. This was especially the case in North American institutions whose size 
and funding made them predominant in sociology and psychology for much 
of the century. The resolution of the pre-war polarisation between the 
universities of Columbia and Chicago largely in Columbia's favour is often 
cited as evidence of this transition. Columbia, under Paul Lazarsfeld, was a 
centre for quantitative sociology and the survey. Chicago had been home 
to ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism and participant observation, 
the so-called humanistic sociologies. Although Piatt suggests, perhaps 
inevitably, that this is an oversimplified portrayal, she documents 'the 
commitment to making social science like natural science, and thus with 
themes such as empiricism, objectivity, observability, operationalism, 
behaviourism, value neutrality, measurement and quantification.'^^ By the 
1950's, some sociologists could write accounts of 'the successful 
development of a truly scientific sociology'. ^^ 

The post-war period also witnessed other forms of scientific 
expansion with considerable implication for the human sciences, notably 
attempts to create syntheses which encompassed the natural and the 
human sciences. The new areas of computing and information science 
began to command resources on an ever increasing scale, and to appear 
in unusual disciplinary alliances, with psychologists, for example. ^^ And 
attempts were made to apply scientific thinking not only in the still largely 
academic disciplines of the human sciences, but in the practical world of 


Piatt, A History of Sociological Research Methods in America, pp. 67-8. See also pp. 67-1 05, 
200-210, and 256-270 on these issues. 


Ibid, p. 67. Piatt is referring to John Madge, The Tools of Social Science, London, Longmans, 


Pickering, Units of Analysis, pp.4-6. 


everyday human affairs. In particular, the notion that a science of 
management was both attainable and desirable gained ground. This was a 
far more extensive encroachment of scientific method into business (and 
other) organizations than the pre-war efforts of Taylor and others to 
maximise efficiency, principally on the shop floor. Post-war management 
science included earlier time and motion studies of this kind amongst its 
techniques, but drew also on a variety of new ones which were designed to 
optimise activity at all levels, from the board room downwards. This latter 
expansion has been much less studied by historians but the model for the 
involvement of science in this sphere of human affairs is generally 
perceived to be operational research: the active involvement of scientists in 
military strategy and tactics which began during World War Two. 

Operational research, a term apparently first coined in British radar 
research in the late 1930's, entailed the application of science to problems 
involving human and machine resources on a large scale. ^"^ As indicated by 
its name, operational research was regarded as a problem solving 
discipline, applicable to individual situations where practical action was 
required, rather than a means of discovering fundamental new 
knowledge. ^^ It had been rated a considerable success in both the British 
and US war effort. Instead of concentrating on laboratory-based tasks such 


Most accounts of British military operational research locate its origins in the involvement of 
physicists with radar in aircraft detection just before World War Two. The practical 
problems of making radar an effective defence from air attack were rapidly identified as 
differing from its study under laboratory conditions. Hence two groups were set up: 'radar 
research' and 'operational radar research'. The term radar was dropped from the latter 
when similar methods began to be applied to other areas of research. See for example, 
Rivett, Concepts of Operational Research, pp.5-6. 


It was 'a collection of disciplines, brought together for the purposes of making a scientific 
attack on practical problems'. Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, Opera tona/ Research in 
the Health Service, Oxford University Press, 1962, p.v. 


as developing new explosives, scientists were invited to examine issues of 
'man-machine' interfaces, strategy and tactics. In the British forces, 
successes included the re-design of tanks and maximising the rate of hits 
in anti-submarine warfare. ^^ 

The success of operational research in achieving military objectives 
was not overlooked in peacetime. If scientific methods could help large 
organizations of people and resources win wars, might they not, with 
advantage, be applied to achieving peacetime goals where large 
organizations of human and material resources were involved? Release of 
official records of operational research activities in the British Forces began 
in the 1950's, but advocates, most of whom had gained first hand 
experience in the military context, began speaking and writing about 
operational research and related practices soon after the war ended. ^^ 
The first international conference on operational research was held in 
Oxford in 1957. By that time the fields of application for publications in 
operational research were as likely to be in the civilian, as the military 
sphere. A Guide to Operational Researcli, by Eric Duckworth, first 
published a few years later in 1 962, defined it without reference to a 
military context. Operational Research was 'the study of administrative 
systems pursued in the same scientific manner in which systems in 
physics, chemistry and biology are studied in the natural sciences'. 'Since 
1950', the author continued, 'operational research has spread rapidly into 

Rivett, Concepts of Operational Research, pp. 7-1 1 . 


Hywel Murrell, for example, initiated the Ergonomics Research Society in 1949, and their 
conference in 1951 in Birmingham 'to put ergonomics before industrialists'. He had been a 
member of the Army Operational Research Group, Section 9, which had been set up at the 
instigation of the MRC 'to assess man/machine/task efficiency'. Hywel Murrell, 'How 
Ergonomics became part of Design' in N. Hamilton (ed), From Spitfire to Microchip: 
Studies in the History of Design from 1945, London, Design Council, pp. 72-79. 


the industrial field. It is now used extensively in general engineering ... It 
is also used in civil government . . . and in hospitals. '^^ This influential 
textbook was, first and foremost, written for the manager. The techniques 
of operational research were to have their greatest peacetime application 
in what came to be called, not surprisingly, management science. 
Institutional links were strong. The College of Aeronautics at Cranfield in 
Surrey was ultimately to become home to the prestigious Cranfield 
Business School. ^^ Individuals trained in operational research were 
appointed to senior positions in industry during the 1960's. C.P. Torrie, for 
example, dubbed the 'high priest of work study' was highly influential at 
ICI.^° Mathematical techniques, such as those originally devised to solve 
problems of supply and landing at airfields, became the basis of 'a vast 
literature on queuing theory and stock problems generally'. ^^ Although, as 
the war years receded, specific references to the original military 
applications of particular techniques were generally omitted, an overall 
debt to operational research was regularly acknowledged in the new genre 
of books on business studies which appeared in the post-war period. ^^ 

It was less often acknowledged, but clearly the case, that the Design 


Eric Duckworth, A Guide to Operational Research, London, Methuen, 1962 (1965 edn.) pp.8 
and 124. 


The College of Aeronautics became The Cranfield Institute of Technology in 1969 and 
Cranfield University in 1993. For a history see Revel Barker, Field of Vision -.Cranfield 
University, the First 50 Years, Cranfield, Cranfield University Press, 1996. 


In 1958, ICI was said to employ 1400 work study officers. This was four times as many as 
any other company in the world. Whitston, 'The Reception of Scientific Management by 
British Engineers' p. 228. 


R.T. Eddison et al., Operational Research in Management, London, English Universities 
Press, 1962, p.124. 

32 1 

"Ibid, p. 21 3, for example. 


Methods movement owed a similar debt to operational research, either 
directly or in its 'management science' guise. To take but one example, the 
central part of the paper to do with problem solving at the 1962 Design 
Methods Conference, was taken up with 'the first detailed report of (an) 
apparatus, its rationale, and its potency for manipulating problem-solving 
groups.' This consisted of a game playing console displaying 81 diagrams 
of aircraft with varying engine size, trajectory, ambient weather conditions 
and location over England, France or Germany.^^ When writers on Design 
Methods did acknowledge the role of operational research in devising the 
techniques they now borrowed, most did so uncritically. 'The leaning 
towards such operational concepts as "model", "systems" and "simulation" 
... are seen as an inevitable outcome of the struggle of thoughtful men to 
understand what they wish to change.' wrote one.^'* A lone voice at the 
1962 Conference opined that 'what we can learn from operational research 
is not the direct example of immediately applicable methodologies, but the 
indirect example of how they solved their own problems'. ^^ Most 
proponents of Design Methods, however, including Archer himself, had 
little hesitation in applying the techniques of operational research in a very 
direct fashion. By the time of the third Design Methods Conference in 
1969, two years after the King's Fund Bed Project was completed, he 
presented a sustained and extensive attempt to describe the design 
process in mathematical terms entitled The structure of the design 


B.N.Lewis, 'Communication in Problem-solving Groups', p. 171. 


L.S. Jay, 'Problems of Town and Regional Planning', quoting J.W. Dykman, p.20. 


Joseph Esherick, 'Problems of the Design of a Design System', in Jones and Thornley (eds), 
Conference on Design Methods, pp. 75-81 :86. 


process.^^ In it he clearly identified the various mathematical techniques 
employed, and their derivation from operational research. This paper was a 
shorter version of his doctoral thesis.^'' Although Archer later came to 
consider he had 'wasted a lot of time trying to bend the methods of 
operational research and management techniques to design purposes', 
these methods had clearly preoccupied him during the time of the bed 
project. ^^ 

Archer's Design Method 

In 1963-4, the first year of the King's Fund Bed project. Archer published a 
series of seven articles in Design under the general title of Systematic 
IVIetliod for Designers. The articles were re-published, with some revision, 
as a booklet under the same title by the Council of Industrial Design in 
1965.^^ They were apparently based on the working documents prepared 
with Butter during the Nuffield-funded year of research on hospital 
equipment. Taken together, his early drafts and published papers provide 
insight into the design method which Archer had been gradually refining 
over a period of years which coincided almost exactly with the timing of the 
bed project. Of the four case studies appended to the COID booklet, 

L.B. Archer, 'The structure of the design process', in Geoffrey Broadbent and Anthony Ward 
(eds), Design Methods in Architecture, London, Lund Humphries, 1969, pp. 76-1 02. 


Published in 1969 by the U.S. National Bureau of Standards as The structure of design 

L. B. Archer, 'Whatever became of Design Methodology?' in Cross (ed). Developments 
in Design Methodology, Chichester, John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 1984, pp. 347-349:347. 


L. Bruce Archer, Systematic method for designers, London, COID, 1965. 


number one (an apparatus designed by an Dim student for the calibration 

of a radio pill which, when swallowed, monitored the pH of the digestive 

tract) was described as among the first serious attempts to apply the 

principles described in the booklet. The third (the ward medicine trolley 

designed at the end of the Nuffield sponsored year) was described as 

having been 'selected expressly to test and demonstrate research and 

design techniques as far as they had then been developed'. The fourth 

case study was the Kings Fund bed itself, and Archer recorded that 

revisions made to the checklists (a central feature of his method) were 

derived largely from a study of the records of that project.'*" 

Like most advocates of Design Methods, Archer began by urging 

that they were necessary because design problems had become too 

complex for the designer to use 'traditional' methods, or 'rules of thumb'. 

Like many, too, he considered that ways had to be found to 'incorporate 

knowledge of ergonomics, cybernetics, marketing and management 

science into design thinking.'"*^ These were, however, additional to a 

technique of central importance: 

The most fundamental challenge to conventional ideas on design, . . 
. has been the growing advocacy of systematic methods of problem 
solving, borrowed from computer techniques and management 
theory, for assessment of design problems and the development of 
design solutions. '"^^ 

The origins of decision theory are generally described as lying in 
political economy and traced back to Jeremy Bentham and the concept of 


The second example was the wristwatch designed by Reinhart Butter under Archer at Dim. 


Archer, Systematic method for designers, p. 3. 



economic man, a completely rational being who, under conditions of 
certainty (that is when the consequences of choices were known) 
consistently made decisions to maximise utility."*^ Psychologists adopted 
different models of how individuals make choices and the subject became 
of increasing interest in commerce because of its relevance to consumer 
choice during the twentieth century. Scientists involved in military strategy 
and tactics routinely drew on this work in devising optimisation techniques. 
John von Neumann and others theorised decision making under 
uncertainty into 'game theory'. "^"^ In these guises many elements of decision 
theory were incorporated into management science. 

The subject had interested Archer at least since his time at Dim, 
where it had often been discussed with Horst Rittel and others. "^^ His 
reports on the Nuffield-funded research on hospital equipment had referred 
to the use of decision theory in the design process, and when the Kings 
Fund had taken over the project in early 1963 the first working meeting at 
the Fund began with Archer 'giving a resume of his theory of decision 
making'. "^^ Although there was no reference to decision theory in the 
published report of the King's Fund Bed project, this was perhaps due to 
the rather antipathetic response to his theories displayed by some of the 
King's Fund Working Party. '^'' 


Ward Edwards, 'The Theory of Decision Making', Psychological Bulletin 5^ , 4, 1954, pp.381 - 
417 reviews the field up to the early 1950's. 


Helms, Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America, p.1 09-1 1 0. 


Interview, Bruce Archer, 10.5.99. 


Notes of a meeting at the Hospital Centre, 23.5.63, A/KE/PJ/1 7/1 . 


When the Working Party met representatives of the South West Metropolitan Regional 
Hospital Board in connection with the research which Archer's team had intended to carry 
out on equipping the new West Middlesex hospital, they found a 'general opinion that 
Archer's method was little more than the application of common sense wrapped up in 

Before proceeding to outline his design method utilizing decision 
theory Archer devoted the first article in the series Systematic Method for 
Designers to a necessary prerequisite: a discussion of the relationship 
between aesthetics and logic. The separation of 'aesthetics', which he 
equated with 'matters of value', and 'logic' which he defined as 'matters of 
fact', exercised many advocates of Design Methods (and decision theory). 
This was principally because 'matters of fact' were usually susceptible to 
measurement, thus providing data in an abstract, quantitative form to 
which the mathematical techniques employed in decision theory could be 
applied. Matters of value, however, were more problematic. Archer 
considered that matters of value, or aesthetics, were of two kinds: 
'descriptive aesthetics' and 'ethical aesthetics'. Descriptive aesthetics, by 
which he meant what is generally meant by the word aesthetics in most 
discourses other than philosophy, that is beauty, or appearance, caused 
him little difficulty. Issues of descriptive ethics were 'eminently soluble by 
the methods of the physical sciences . . . Descriptive aesthetics . . . deals 
with empirical facts about perceivable qualities and the statistics of 
preferences . . . Thus, descriptive ethics is a natural science, like 
physiology.' With this somewhat sweeping statement he dismissed the 
issue. Certainly, there were techniques then current in applied and social 
psychology which produced quantitative results in the field which Archer 
designated 'descriptive aesthetics'. A large body of work had been done 
before and after World War Two on scaling, including the scaling of opinion 
and preference. As Piatt points out, 'Scaling is connected with the theory of 
measurement and provides a relatively firm foundation for quantification, 

( . . continued) 

some high flown verbiage' and that he 'needed to be kept on the rails'. Notes of a meeting 
at South West Metropolitan RHB, 7.8.63, A/KE/PJ/17/1. 


by making it possible to claim accurate and meaningful measurement of 
degrees of intensity; this translates attributes into variables, and means 
that the data collected can be much more effectively manipulated 
mathematically'.'^^ Special techniques of asking questions had been 
devised. It was found, for example, that subjects could not consistently 
rank large numbers of preferences, but could do so if they were presented 
in pairs and the rank order compiled from this procedure. 

Archer also used these 'binary' methods of questioning when 
dealing with what was to him the more problematic area of 'ethical' 
aesthetics. By ethical aesthetics. Archer meant 'wrongness' or 'rightness', 
or 'appropriateness'. Allowing that decisions in this area were indeed 'value 
judgements', and not amenable to the same numerical logic as physical 
science, he solved the dilemma by contending that they i/i/ere amenable to 
a sort of 'case-law' logic. By this he meant, essentially, appeal to a 
consensus of informed opinion. Furthermore, this case law logic could be 
described in terms of mathematics, albeit of the non-quantitative kind, such 
as Boolean algebra. (Such techniques were subsequently used to 
incorporate 'expert opinion' into decision making computer programmes.) 
Archer referred to his solution to the problem of ethical aesthetics as 
'practical science', a subject I will return to in Chapter Six. 

The introduction to the second article, entitled 'The nature of 
designing', began with theoretical assumptions which are perhaps 
unsurprising given prevailing views in the disciplines which Archer 
considered appropriate to inform his method. He asserted that design 
began with a need, the art of designing was the art of reconciling conflicting 


Piatt, A History of Sociological Research Methods in America, p. 28. 


requirements and resolving conflict, it was a 'goal-seeking activity' or a 
'cybernetic or goal-directed problem solving activity'. Pickering has drawn 
attention to the kind of psychology which informed the 'cyborg' sciences. 
The behaviourist and functionalist assumptions shared by most proponents 
of Design Methods in the 1960's have been pointed out by several 
historians of the movement. They did not go unnoticed by some critics at 
the time, and they were made much of in the general rejection of Design 
Methods that came in the 1970's. (see Chapter Six). 

Borrowing another concept from the 'cyborg' sciences. Archer noted 
that many contemporary fields now preferred to consider 'systems' rather 
than 'self contained units'. He went on to describe 'the basic system at the 
point of use' of the artefact to be designed, which he chose to describe as 
a man-tool-work-environment system'. 

The term 'environment' was used in the behaviourist sense to mean 
all uncontrollable variables. This was clearly based on the work done with 
Butter, where the same system is outlined.'*^ The system was said to 'imply' 
eleven activities, such as man operates tool, tool reacts on man, work acts 
on environment, environment acts on tool and so on. These activities were 
said to 'involve considerations', reducible to three 'human factors' 
(motivation, ergonomics, aesthetics), three technical factors (function, 
mechanism, structure) and three 'further' factors (production, economics, 
presentation). Admitting that 'these lists are neither exhaustive nor exact', 
Archer considered that the tables formed 'a useful basis for the evolution of 
checklists and analytical systems'. He drew the reader's attention to the 
difference between the fundamental qualities of the factors. Some, such as 


AAD/1 989/9, Job 1, Working Documents 1-5. 

structure and economics, were susceptible to measurement which could 
be 'optimised by conventional methods of calculation.' Others, such as 
motivation and aesthetics, which related to matters of value, could only be 
assessed using the sort of 'case law' he had introduced earlier. 
(Presumably descriptive aesthetics fell into the former type, and was 
exempt from this proviso). Then asserting that design problems were 
therefore comprised of thousands of subproblems, each of which could be 
solved in an appropriate way to an optimum or acceptable solution, 'the 
hard part of the task is to reconcile the solutions of the sub-problems with 
one another'. Accepting the optimum for one sub-problem might entail a 
poor solution for another. Structuring the design process in this way 
allowed Archer to apply the decision making techniques in which he was 
keenly interested. 

Article three, entitled 'Getting the brief, explored a further issue 
central to the Design Methods movement, that of eliciting 'user needs'. 
According to Archer 'the awareness of need' in the client had to be 
translated into goals for the designer by 'defining the needs and pressures 
which constitute the driving force for change'. Here he made explicit use of 
a cybernetic model, in turn derived from behaviourist learning theory, which 
he considered to show 'the way in which, in nature, day to day problems 
are solved. The identification of goals was to be followed by the 
identification of 'constraints'. These would in turn define the' field of 
manoeuvre', in which 'crucial issues' were to be identified. The designer 
was then, again following a cybernetic model, to review his experience of 
analogous problems and suggest an approximate solution. Archer noted 
that at this stage his method had involved little or no data analysis, but the 
problem had been defined and a course of action formulated. This, it 

seems, was at least partly due to the practicalities of design contracting. 
'Most designers must submit an outline programme with estimates of costs 
for approval before the work of evaluating data and developing solutions 
can be undertaken'. Assuming that approval was received, the designer 
could then proceed to find answers to the questions he had posed. 

Article four. Examining tlie Evidence, outlines methods for finding 
'information'. These might include starting with a kind of brainstorming, 
which produced random factors.^" Alternatively, a thesaurus, or a checklist 
(Archer's favoured method) was advocated, and information gathered 
around these. 'From this a list of all matters requiring evaluation and 
decision is prepared, and where the solution of one of these impinges on 
another, the two are paired to make a sub-problem.' The sub-problems 
were tackled by appropriate methods, ('there is a technique appropriate to 
every problem') which ranged from quantitative optimisation to the use of 
'informed opinion' as in the 'case-law' model, and then the sub-problems 
rank ordered in case of incompatible solutions. A binary chart was 
advocated here, which would rank order the problems according to how 
many others they interacted with. At the end of this stage, 'all the facts 
about the characteristics of the product, and all the facts about the 
limitations of the means for producing, marketing and using it, are 
assembled into a performance specification.' In effect, 'the whole design 
problem is expressed as a rank ordered list of the attributes which the final 
solution is required to have. This much might well be computerised. The 
result, however, was again a statement of the problem, not of the answer.' 


Alexander advocated this course of action in liis design metliod. Brainstorming was 
considered to be a liiglily innovative and potentially valuable technique in the early 1960's. 
See J. C. Jones, 'Design Methods Compared, 2: Tactics', Design, 213, 1966, pp. 46-52:47. 


The abstract and mathematical character of this line of thought is 
clear, as is an implicit assumption that a sufficiently full and exact 
exposition of a problem would contain its solution. ^^ For the hospital bed 
project however, or indeed for any project to design an artefact, the way in 
which the problem was constituted prefigured the way in which it would be 
answered, and consequently the nature of the resultant artefact. The 
abstraction of complex problems in the social world to mathematics was to 
prove a highly deterministic method. And the great emphasis placed on 
decision theory and problem solving techniques meant that the defining of 
the problem occupied far more pages in this exposition of Archer's method 
than did the subsequent stages of designing hardware to answer the 
problem, feasibility testing and communicating with manufacturers. This 
was an emphasis which had already been demonstrated in Archer's 
approach to the Nuffield sponsored project, where problem defining had 
taken the entire first year. It was an emphasis that would recur in full 
measure during the course of the King's Fund Bed project. That project, 
being a request for an abstract specification, in effect a statement of the 
design problem, rather than an embodiment of any one solution, was 
particularly well suited to the method. 

In the remaining articles in the series. Archer addressed the issue of 
the 'Creative Leap' and the 'Donkey Work', that is 'making a selected 
design idea work'. Creativity was always problematic for advocates of 
Design Methods, some of whom argued that truly systematic and logical 
design procedures would replace it completely, whatever it was. Rather 


This implicit assumption of several early design methods was pointed out in Philip 
Steadman, 'An Evolutionary Approach', Design Research and Methods, 7, 2, 1973, 

than argue designers out of a job altogether however, more sophisticated 
advocates provided various accounts of the creative process. Archer 
described the 'creative leap' (significantly, an event, not a process) as 'an 
essential element, distinguishing design from certain other problem solving 
activities' and explained it with reference to scientific 'uncertainty principles' 
and the transactional school of perception. I shall discuss his views on 
'making a selected design idea work' in Chapter Three, since they relate 
largely to the building and testing of models and prototypes. 

Overall, Systematic Method for Designers drew on an eclectic 
mixture of scientific and scientistic disciplines. Archer recalled the impact of 
the release of details of war-time operational research in the 1950's. 'We 
were buzzing with the new ideas'. ^^ The cyborg sciences in particular were 
espoused enthusiastically in a liberal humanist ethos of reconstruction and 
reform. A belief in their potential for good was unexceptional at the time.^^ 

Systematic method for Designers was a programmatic statement 
largely written before the King's Fund Bed Project, but given the timing, the 
project's outcome could hardly fail to be regarded as a vindication or 
otherwise of the methods advocated. Its overall rhetoric was an advocacy 
of rigour, the assumed rigour of scientific method. This rhetoric was to do 
useful work in the social world, above and beyond any contribution to the 
procedures adopted. 


Interview, Bruce Archer, 9.5.00. 


The polymath, Gregory Bateson, considered cybernetics to be 'one of only two moments 
in his lifetime that would rate as really important from an anthropologist's point of view' 
(the other concerned the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles). Gregory Bateson, 
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, London, Paladin, 1973, p.445.