An appeal to authority is a false claim that something must be true because an authority on the subject believes it to be true. It is possible for an expert to be wrong, we need to understand their reasoning or research before we appeal to their findings. In a design meeting you might hear something like this:
“Amazon is a successful website. Amazon has orange buttons. So orange buttons are the best.”
Feel free to switch out ‘Amazon’ and ‘orange buttons’ for anything you want; you get an equally week argument. We could argue back that Amazon is surviving on past success and that larger company are often hard to innovate so shouldn’t be used as a design influence. We could point out that Jeff Bezos has a reputation for micro-managing and ignoring the evidence provided by usability experts he has hired. As a result, we could point out that Amazon is possibly successful in spite of its design not because of it. But the words ‘often’, ‘reputation’ and ‘possibly’ make all these arguments equally week and full of fallacies.
When we counter any logical fallacy, we want to do it as cleanly as possible. In the above example, we only need to point out that many successful websites don’t have orange buttons and many unsuccessful sites do have orange buttons. Then we can move away from the matter entirely unless there is some research or reason available to explain the authorities decision.
Rob Sutcliffe writing in Prototypr