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Precedents are earlier occurrences or examples of work that bear resemblance or similarity to the student’s intentions. The student is encouraged to trace the antecedents of an idea to its origin. A precedent or case study helps the student “analyse the past in order to prepare for the future.”32 This requires the student to analyse a precedent and compare and contrast it with other similar examples in time.

How does one deconstruct a precedent? Here, the 6W & 2H framework33, partly summarized in mnemonic form, is of much use:
     I keep six honest serving-men
     (They taught me all I knew);
     Their names are What and Why and When
     And How and Where and Who
          - Rudyard Kipling in The Elephants Child (1902)

Missing in the quatrain above is Which and How much.

These questions34 assist the student in mapping out precedents. In employing them, the student may ask:

Why is the precedent relevant? What is new or novel or different about it?

How is it inter-related to other precedents? How has the precedent accomplished it’s function or purpose? What is its impact?

When and Where did the precedent originate from? What role did time, space and other contextual factors play in its emergence?

Who is the creator, inventor or designer in question? What is their background and how has it contributed to the design?

  1. read Jane Webster and Richard T. Watson in Analyzing the Past to Prepare for the Future: Writing a Literature Review (2002).
  2. read D.W. Robertson, Jr. in A Note on the Classic Origin of Circumstances in the Medieval Confessional (1946).
  3. Design is about asking the right questions.