Polaris was first introduced at Shopify Unite 2017, as Shopify’s new, unified design system. Their goal was to improve the merchants’ experience by creating a familiar, cohesive feel in everything from marketing through to how a site is viewed on small and large screens, from apps through to the core Shopify UI.
With Polaris, Shopify introduced a set of new quality standards and experience values for consistently high-quality UX. From setting options for contrast and colour, to making it easier for merchants to flip back and forth between apps and screens, this functionality is available to a wide range of stores. Merchants and partners can spend less time on creating the interface, thus having more time to meet customers’ needs, and app developers can spend their time on solving their clients’ problems.
“Design systems are and should be constantly evolving”
When to develop a design system
During a recent webinar on Polaris, the question was asked, “Why is it important to build a community around design systems?” Our lead designer, Erin, agreed with the answer: first and foremost, “It helps enable teams to work together.” A successful design system hinges on its people. Polaris is the successful (and still-evolving) result of multi-disciplinary teams of content strategists, designers, developers and researchers, all working together to create the best UX for Shopify merchants, partners, app developers and, of course, customers.
A common understanding of the concepts and lingo is essential for knowledge transfer and growing teams, but at some point, too much constraint can hinder creativity. We asked ourselves, “If this was removed from our workflow, how would we feel about it?” If it would drastically change how we worked, and would be very difficult to work without, then we know it’s an extremely important asset.
So, yes, we love the idea of Polaris; with it, we can more quickly build features in our apps.
However, we don't actually use the library.
Don’t settle for “good enough”
Our developer, Derek, says, “I think if we had full rein we would take much longer to build new features than we do with Polaris. We would probably end up building our own design system to serve our needs, which would take a lot of time away from app development.”
Though he fully acknowledges the experience values and benefits of Polaris for him as a developer, Derek had concerns about its accessibility for users, and disliked the overuse of un-semantic markup. Fresh from Shopify Unite 2017, he created our very own Polaris design library on Bootstrap, an open-source toolkit. With it, we can write front end code the way we want; unless developers use React, Polaris isn’t easy to use. We've had a few other app developers using our version of Polaris for the same reasons -- it’s open sourced and usable by other developers too. Check it out here!
Don’t stop evolving
While we certainly don’t want to reinvent the wheel, design systems can only cover so many things; they are and should be constantly evolving. We sometimes run into situations where Polaris just doesn't have a component for what we need; this is to be expected. However, we do sincerely appreciate having a precise style guide on which to base our own custom components, and we’re interested to see how it continues to evolve and create new user experiences.