Building a Culture of Design Thinking: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

DMNS

Challenge

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) is a 115-year-old institution that welcomes nearly 1.4 million visitors every year. More than 90% of visitors rate the museum at an “exceptional” level in satisfaction surveys, and the Museum has a membership base of over 62,000 households.

Yet attracting and retaining visitors from underserved local communities has been a challenge for the museum, and senior leadership wanted to ensure that the institution is relevant, accessible, and welcoming to visitors from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. In response, the DMNS launched a museum-wide initiative to infuse design thinking into their internal DNA as part of an effort to become more relevant and accessible to the community, and brought Designing Insights on board to train staff and consult around ongoing design thinking practices.

Approach

We trained over 100 Museum staff members in human-centered design methods. Team members from every department in the museum participated, including the CEO and trustees, along with personnel from Research and Collections, Exhibits, Marketing, Volunteer Services, Finance, Guest Services, Technology, Food Services, and the Gift Shop. These trainings took the form of intensive, immersive, multi-day workshops in which staff tackled specific and timely challenges, such as: “How might we better connect the Denver community with nature?”

After our trainings, we provided follow-up consulting to coach the DMNS staff as they experimented with new ways of designing and developing new programs and exhibits. Staff members have conducted need-finding interviews and collaborative design sessions with local community members, formed internal “affinity” groups to support each other in the design thinking process, run internal brainstorming sessions, set up a dedicated prototyping space, and piloted new community programs and exhibits.

The Museum’s internal Audience Insights department conducted pre- and post-assessments to measure staff’s confidence around using design thinking, and survey results demonstrated that the design thinking process has increased staff members’ self-reported courage around experimentation and risk-taking.

I’ve worked with Designing Insights to incorporate design thinking strategies into my organization and it has been an amazing and transformative experience.
Amanda Bennett, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Read more about how the DMNS is infusing design thinking into their internal DNA on our blog, Design Thinking for Museums.

Project Team

Dana Mitroff Silvers
Maryanna Rogers