Learning from Precedent

Design studies professor presents on the importance of using and sharing precedent

Educators often draw inspiration and insights from others to achieve successful improvement and development. The McKay School of Education has great examples of predecessors, including Kennon Smith, an assistant professor and member of the design studies group at Indiana University who is a former master’s student at BYU. She recently presented to Instructional Psychology and Technology (IP&T) students on the importance of learning through precedents.

“In order for something to be a legitimate source of precedent, there needs to be a convincing link between the case that happened before and the situation at hand,” Smith said. She explained that it is important for cases to be evaluated before they are compared in order to make sure the comparison is effective.

Smith also emphasized the importance of writing down ideas and research to encourage the use of precedent. She gave the example of Andrea Palladio, a famous 16thcentury architect, to highlight the effects of appropriate written materials.

Because Palladio published accounts of his work, he had a massive impact on the Renaissance in Italy. To this day people are still creating buildings influenced by Palladio. “He is the single most influential designer in western architecture because precedent was available,” Smith said.

Students also saw the importance of precedent by learning through the design process. Smith showed how Nigel Holmes, a graphic designer and theorist, goes through several steps before he reaches his final project. “You will develop many, many ideas,” Smith said. “So don’t stress out about the very first thing you put on the page.”

Smith described to IP&T students ways in which precedent can be shared. She explained how in the past there hasn’t been a culture of sharing design precedent, making it difficult to do so now. However, she discussed how creating design case studies that examine the process of design and critique the products helps scholars to more readily use design studies for precedent.

This process applies in any field of education, as educators can consider the successes and failures of others as they create better outcomes for their students. “A tremendous amount has been learned from failures, but it is only because people investigate those failures and are willing to talk about them,” Smith said.

Smith received her undergraduate design degree from Arizona State University, a master’s degree in art history from BYU and another master’s in instructional systems technology from Indiana University, and her doctorate in instructional systems technology from Indiana University. This presentation can be viewed at the IP&T website or through the McKay School’s media archives.