A lesson that we’ve learned at Shopify from building Polaris is that maintaining a system takes more effort than building it. That’s because design systems inevitably create debt. Components will be used and forked in unpredictable ways. Dependencies can make it difficult to predictably make a change. We ran into these issues while rolling out a new design language for Shopify’s admin in October. The time it took to test the impact of a small visual change across the product slowed down the rollout.
Among the many (many, many) points Ursula Franklin makes in The Real World of Technology, she suggests that technology is best understood not as software or gadgets, but as a practice: as a way of doing something.