Many teams face difficulties in translating fuzzy research into tangible priority discussions. We here at University of Michigan Health System were the same. To help ourselves, we developed The Impact Pyramid — a simple, one-dimensional prioritization framework that focuses on user value. Its effectiveness is in its singularity of purpose and its ability to enable diverse stakeholders to transparently engage with your user research data.


UMHealthResearch is a platform that connects the public to health research studies. Born out of the University of Michigan, the platform is now being adopted by various Universities across the country.

Read the medium article on this topic

What is an Impact Pyramid

The Impact Pyramid is a framework we created that lays out issues uncovered during user research into a pyramid, with issues that would have the most impact to your users at the base, and issues that would have the least impact at the tip. Each floor represents a category of issues that are less impactful than the ones below. Addressing issues from a floor may have a net positive impact on the issues in the floors above. You can have as many floors as you like, but we found 3 to be an optimal number. Learn why we created this framework.

The usefulness of the Impact Pyramid is in its singularity of purpose. When used in conjunction with a visual grouping technique such as a Hybrid Affinity Map, it enables all stakeholders to transparently and tangibly engage with your user research data. It then facilitates acceptance and buy-in on a user-centered priority scheme.

How did we use it

The Impact Pyramid for one of UMHealthResearch’s major redesigns
We conducted user interviews with 19 study teams to qualitatively understand their experience using our platform to recruit research participants. With each theme that emerged from this qualitative research, we used quantitative data to find how widespread the issue was, and how deeply it affected our users. We used a Hybrid Affinity Map to merge in-depth qualitative stories and broad-scale quantitative data. This helped us determine impact.

Then we organized the issues in a pyramid with:

  • Foundational issues that that were core to making UMHealthResearch a more useful and efficient tool for most of our study teams at the base.
  • In the middle were issues that mattered to a reasonable number of study teams but were not at the core of their problems with UMHealthResearch.
  • At the tip of the pyramid were issues which when addressed would make things a little more convenient for some of our users but not much beyond that.

Being a simple, one-dimensional framework, the Impact Pyramid brought our team of developers, designers, PMs, and domain experts on the same page in terms of benefit to users. Every time there was a conversation around priority, we could refer to this framework to ground ourselves as to what would be the most useful to our users. The Impact Pyramid helped us prioritize together which problems to attack first, so that the largest number of users can get the most benefit, the fastest.


  • From a user research standpoint, creating value depends heavily on translating research insights into actionable decision frameworks
  • Frameworks and artifacts are most useful when they facilitate collaboration
  • Priorities are always an ongoing discussion and need buy-in from all stakeholders for success
  • Simple tools are better at getting people to work closer together

Read the medium article on this topic

Other Case Studies