User testing summary & videos

One thing that seemed to come up in each test we ran: People may not know what an aboretum is, and The Morton’s website doesn’t provide a clear answer to that question up front.


Testing suggested some users didn’t understand that The Morton was an aboretum or even what an aboretum is, in some cases.

This screen shot of the home page on a mobile device highlights that there may be a knowledge gap that isn’t being addressed by the content.

Appeals for support are followed by a list of events — but for truly novice visitors, there’s no simple introduction.

As with all recommendations, testing is best. Does an overarching value proposition and essential introduction to the role of an arboretum contribute to better outcomes? Testing suggests it may be an approach worth exploring.

Event pages

Eliminate dead ends. Some users visit a particular event page and may then decide they want to attend that event. Try including a call to action at the end of each event page for purchasing tickets to the event or at least to buy tickets for admission. Currently, there is a reference to the cost of the event at the end of event pages, but no link to take action, which means users have to return to the top level navigation and find ticketing info. This friction is especially pronounced on mobile, where testing suggests that a considerable portion of people may avoid using the navigation entirely.

Some users rely on images when they have trouble understanding what the event is based on by reading the text. Use images of real people participating in events wherever possible to help people visualize the character of the activity.


In testing visitation membership organizations’ websites, we’ve found that some users do not think to look for membership options under categories with labels like “Support Us”. Users may think of membership as a benefit for themselves, not the organization, and may become frustrated as they look under a category or menu item like “Visit”.

I’d recommend tree testing the navigation; Short of that, consider breaking out membership as it’s own top-level navigation link in the menu.

On the membership page, the member levels are listed from most expensive to least, which can be a good idea. The most expensive option provides an anchor and makes less expensive options more appealing.

However, in testing, no one clicked to view benefit details. Run heat maps on the membership page to see if this important information is being overlooked at scale.

The Morton might also consider simplifying the list of benefits for each membership level. Describe only what is different between the options.


To reduce cognitive burden, consider emphasizing differences, rather than repeating similarities in benefit descriptions.

Software companies have this nailed down. They present tables comparing benefits, saying “Option b includes everything in option a plus x, y, and z.”

This shortens the list of options and lets people more quickly make a choice.


Users may simultaneously understand that The Morton uses third-party companies to handle checkout and find The Morton at fault with that company’s design choices. One user said, “I don’t know MercuryPay, I don’t know that company …” and went on to question why designers at The Morton would make a checkout form provided by MercuryPay.

In other words, the usability and appearance of checkout pages designed by third parties may negatively impact users trust in The Morton, even when users are aware that The Morton is using a third-party tool.

Your videos

Feel free to watch and download the full videos below. (To download, you can click the share button while playing a video and choose “download”.) The videos will be available here for at least 30 days from the date of our scheduled evaluation.



  • The participants in these tests are not segmented or screened. The advantage here is that we can be sure these users are first-time visitors and are more likely to catch outstanding usability issues that would surface for anyone who might use your website.

  • The people taking these tests have at least some experience in testing websites. They are not professional designers, but they may have more experience using the web than some who will be on your site.

  • Since I have limited access to your payment gateway and website, we’re not able to fully test transactions and email lifecycle content.

  • Occasionally, user tests reflect the personal opinions of the people taking the test. (Things like: “I like the color” or “I hate this font”.) Take this with a grain of salt. I review these videos carefully and if I find that the personal taste of an individual reflects a real design or credibility issue that might hamper someone’s interactions with the content, I’ll let you know.

Future testing with actual users — like your members or patrons — will help uncover more opportunities to improve the website’s content and user experience.

Kyle Bowen
Evaluation Notes

Evaluation Chat


A quick caveat: I’ve provided the recommendations below not knowing the constraints and circumstances under which your website has been designed. When I point out that something seems undesirable or might be improved upon, I say so knowing that there may be good reasons why your organization has chosen that approach or solution.

My goal is to provide a frank assessment, while always remaining open to the possibility that I could be missing key information, which may make some recommendations less than ideal or unfeasible.

The home page

The home page has a prominent, auto-rotating carousel of images at the top.

It looks like you have Hotjar installed on the website — I would run a heatmap using Hotjar to see how much people are interacting with that carousel. How many are clicking through on any slides beyond the first one to view the content featured there? If you find it is very few, consider removing the carousel — the persistent movement can be distracting for visitors and make it harder for them to focus on the surrounding content.

In general, it’s best to avoid using carousels. If the information in those carousel slides is important, place them on the page where everyone will see the information.

Overall, the content on the homepage is largely focused on events and special content.

But the events are very specific, and the aboretum has a huge variety of offerings — Why are these featured and not other offerings? Are the events that occupy the home page more important than evergreen (no pun intended) tasks like ticketing or membership? What processes are in place for prioritizing home page content?

As you plan for a potential website redesign, you might consider conducting a Top Tasks Analysis, which is a way to thoroughly assess the most valuable tasks on your website and objectively prioritize content. Once you have those top tasks, they can help determine the structure of the homepage and what content should live there.

In the meantime, it may be helpful to your visitors to structure the events and similar offerings on the home page according to who might be interested in those events.


If events will act as a core element of the homepage, consider grouping by audience to reduce cognitive load.

A father looking for family-friendly activities could then quickly sift through offerings less relevant to him, focusing on events that fall under a “Family” heading and ignoring podcasts or professional debates that would fall under a different category.

Also — an overarching usability issue on the site is the font size. Many visitors will skim the website; A minimum font size of 16 will help them absorb the information more quickly.

Highlight differences

It’s nice to see the arboretum using social proof on the home page, which suggests the arboretum has some feedback mechanisms in place that could inform future marketing efforts.


Audience feedback gives clues as to how the arboretum might differentiate itself.

This visitor’s comment is a clue that could be used to build more content that connects with visitors. The Morton could go so far as to speak to weaker alternatives to visiting the arboretum.

To highlight research, take a problem-first approach

In some places, The Morton references environmental concerns.

It may be worth testing a more explicit problem-first approach. For those who share a concern for the environment, underscoring the challenges of climate change makes for an emotional appeal. However, it’s easy to skip past the problem and present the solution — or The Morton’s efforts to contribute to a solution — too soon.

In other words, rather than talking about the value of any climate-related or conservation research happening at The Morton, try to first talk about the dangers associated with those issues. Connecting on an emotional level may be a more effective way to promote research.

There is a lot of content on The Morton website. The navigation may overwhelm some users.

To determine if navigation is actually a problem, I recommend tree testing. If you find that navigation may be unintuitive and prevent people from finding the information they need, I would follow up with an open card sort to uncover users’ mental models, and then a closed card sort to finalize the navigation structure.

Finally, once any new navigation is put in place, I would run another tree test to be sure that the issues have been fully addressed.

CRM & Ticketing

Yes, ticketing is a bit of a “nightmare”. As you evaluate CRMs, consider:

  1. testing with users;

  2. Finding a solution that does not require immediate log in or account creation

  3. Give preference to one that integrates with other solutions.

Automatically directing all users to log in is an obstacle to be avoided. If someone wants to buy a one-time ticket, it’s onerous to have to create an account.

Forms & Question Protocol

Does The Morton need to collect phone numbers?

Should someone buying tickets for a single visit or to attend “little acorns” one day have to share their phone number?

If you do require a phone number or home address, would it reassure the visitor if you told them on the form how their personal information will be used?


If all users must create an account, transparency becomes more vital.

Some users will be reluctant to share their personal information. I stumbled repeatedly trying to create an account without providing a home address, which didn’t appear to be required.

Does The Morton Arboretum require people who purchase tickets on-site to share their phone number and home address?

If not, why should the website require that information?

Newsletter sign up & lifecycle emails


The signup page I found for The Morton’s newsletter was a standard Mailchimp form.

Consider developing a web page for the newsletter that better communicates the value to the prospective subscriber.


Once someone subscribes they receive a default message confirming their subscription.

Consider redirecting new subscribers to a landing page where you can collect more information. Users will often take the extra step to answer a simple question like, “What made you decide to sign up today?” This can lead to interesting insights from new subscribers.


The welcome reiterates the confirmation, but doesn’t communicate value or brand identity to the new subscriber.

Consider communicating an appeal for membership or donations in the welcome email.

Content Governance

As I think you’re aware, a style guide for publishers and editors could be beneficial. For example, event pages adopt a very academic tone, using words like “Registration” and “Course Description” — even for events geared toward small children.


Event pages for families and kids reflects an academic tone.

As you consider a website redesign and a new CRM, you may want to adopt a RACI model for publishing and perhaps a tool like GatherContent for collaboration on future content.

Thank you

If you have any questions, please email me at

Kyle Bowen