Orange Buttons are the Best

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

Spiritual Matters

There is a strong tendency to suppose that there is no more reason to listen to one man than another in spiritual matters, because the subjects considered are notoriously incapable of proof. The proper conclusion to be drawn, however, is the precise opposite of this. It is because the subjects are incapable of proof that we need to avail ourselves of superior wisdom whenever we can find it.

D. Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion

The experiment that went out of control

Philip Zimbardo is one of the most controversial figures in psychology, said Katie Kilkenny in Pacific Standard. In 1971, the Stanford professor conducted a now notorious psychological experiment that placed 24 student volunteers as prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. The experiment quickly spun out of control, as the student guards became increasingly sadistic toward their prisoners and Zimbardo—who acted as prison superintendent—was accused of subjecting his volunteers to psychological torture. Four decades on, Zimbardo stands by his study—if only because it taught the world that anyone can be seduced by evil under the right circumstances. “[We like to think] our personality is relatively fixed, we are who we are, that we are not influenced by things around us,” says Zimbardo, 82. “This study says no, that might be true sometimes, but other times when you’re put in an unfamiliar situation where you don’t have any guidelines or rules that contain who you are, you could be anything.” He insists we’ve all witnessed this phenomenon: “Somebody you know suddenly begins to change because they’ve been given a certain role or authority.” Zimbardo admits that he, too, was corrupted by his prison role. “I lost my sense of compassion,” he says. “I totally lost that.”

The Week Magazine, August 7, 2015