Wonder Woman Underoos—children’s underwear that looked like a superhero uniform. I didn’t just wear my Underoos. And I didn’t pretend I was saving the world by myself. I had a partner in crime, my friend Thomas, complete with his very own Spider-Man Underoos. We were a team. We worked together to save the world in our own four-year-old kind of ways.
One summer day, we saved a slug that had made its way onto the hot paved driveway. The slug couldn’t find a way back to safety (aka the yard). Our challenge: work together to figure out how to relocate the slug without hurting it. We started on our superhero adventure together. We fashioned a contraption out of sticks and fresh leaves. Together we were able to bring the slug to safety and continue onto our next superhero adventure.
Guess what? There’s science behind this kind of superhero league adventure! As Tomasello wrote, “Even young children already have some sense of shared intentionality, that is to say, that they are part of some larger ‘we’ intentionality.” The larger shared intentionalities we’re a part of are our communities. Our “we” intentionality extends to our families, friends, colleagues, neighbors, towns, cities, and industry.
Although “community” can be defined in a number of ways, I prefer McMillan and Chavis’ (1986) four-part definition:
- Membership—“the feeling of belonging or of sharing as sense of personal relatedness.”
- Influence—“a sense of mattering, of making a difference to a group and of the group mattering to its members.”
- Integration and fulfillment of needs—“the feeling that member’s needs will be met by the resources received through their membership in the group.”
- Shared emotional connection—“the commitment and belief that members have shared and will share history, common places, time together, and similar experiences.”
Currently, I’m focused on figuring out what a school for user experience designers would look like. I think about community. Okay, I obsess over it. I think about how to build and sustain community. There are millions of little details that need to be considered to craft the right experience and create the right outcome: structure, curriculum, physical location, geographic location, furniture, project-work, hiring, space planning, and branding. All of these details affect the community we’re building. That’s correct, the community we’re building. Of course, I am collaborating with other people to build this community because collaboration builds community. And let’s face it; the real fun in building community comes from building community, together.
We are a project-based industry—we learn by working on projects. We learn more when we work on projects together. In essence, we learn by doing and we learn more by doing together. Learning does not need to be a solo pursuit or static pursuit. Instead, it takes a community actively collaborating on project-based initiatives to create meaningful learning experiences. As we research what makes a great UX design program, we keep community at the forefront of all of our decisions. We consider how everyone involved—students, businesses, organizations, staff, and faculty—need to feel that we: belong in the community, serve a purpose in the community, are supported by the community, and fit within the culture of the community.
We need to feel all of this and we need opportunities to experience the “we” intentionality that has been engraved into our DNA. Seriously, science shows the act of doing good work while connecting and helping others actually changes our human form through our vagus nerve (a cranial nerve). Keltner states, “Elevated vagus nerve activity…orients the individual to a life of greater warmth and social connection.” An increase in vagus nerve activity creates a change in a person that has him or her caring for others more than for himself or herself. From this we can deduce that people actually gain a positive physical change from doing good for other people when working with other people.
Just like superheros, we take on a physical change when we work together to accomplish great things. We don’t even need to receive our superpowers as a blessing from the Olympian deities or by getting bit by a radioactive spider. Instead, all we need is to work together to do great things and our bodies will physically morph into the superheroes we were born to be. Let our powers combine! Let others look to us to as an example. Let us join forces and be a community of superheroes.