Designing a journey for families and children

Helping Morton Arboretum recruit and retain new members

Photo of a Morton Arboretum pathway in the Chicagoland suburbs.

The Morton Arboretum is a beloved Chicago-area cultural institution. Its 1,700 acres is home to trees from around the world, lakes, a restored prairie, numerous hiking trails, and a popular Children's Garden. The Morton Arboretum welcomes more than one million visitors per year to a variety of cultural events and activities and to connect with a quiet, beautiful space.

The Challenge

Despite consistent growth over the last decade, the Membership team was aware that members with children did not renew their annual membership as frequently as other members. While the Children's Garden is a fantastic attraction, these members were often not aware of the spaces and events of the broader Arboretum.

The Membership team believed this lack of broader connection diminished perceived value, frequency of visits, and the desire to renew.

The week-long Sprint already is delivering results. We expect to be able to apply the information and data we will gather in the first 6 months to create and implement a major membership program initiative in approximately 12-18 months. Without the kick start of the Sprint, that time frame would likely have extended into 2-3 years!
Karin Jaros
The Morton Arboretum

The Process

Long-term Morton goals discovered during a design session.

The Highland team began by interviewing Arboretum guests in the "members with children" segment to identify what they actually expected from the Arboretum, using the "jobs to be done" framework. Using these interviews, Highland and a cross-functional Morton team from multiple divisions – membership, marketing, education, and events–created a customer journey map that charted the current experience of a member with children throughout the first year of membership, including key touch points from Arboretum staff.

A prototype of a solution to help solve the problem.

Next, Highland led the Morton Membership Team through a one-week Design Sprint focused on creating a tailored program for first year members with children. Special care was given to make the program executable using existing team members and resources. On Friday of the Sprint week, the team offered the new "Kid's Explore More" program to actual members with children signing up for new memberships, and conducted interviews to gain initial feedback.

The Outcome

The front design of a kid's map that The Morton Arboretum uses to this day.

The "Kid's Explore More" program received overwhelmingly positive feedback during testing, using a simple kid's calendar and map to guide new members using advice from long-time Arboretum members. Kid's Explore More is now being launched as a fully supported program for a six-month testing period to measure if visitation rates increase for members participating in the program. The Arboretum hopes it lays the groundwork for further tailored membership programs in the near future.

The back design of a kid's map that The Morton Arboretum uses to this day.

The Arboretum team was energized by the Design Sprint process, and delighted that a new membership initiative could be designed and successfully tested in a single week. They plan to use the format again to rapidly create and test member experience innovations.

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Suzanne Fichter

Director of New Business Development