A north star

Company size

  • 5,000


  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


  • Software
  • E-commerce

Co-founder Daniel Weinand made certain design was woven into Shopify’s DNA from its beginning. From this foundation, Shopify has grown a team of design leaders to evolve what design means, and the role it plays in everything they create, including their workspaces.

We spoke with Lynsey Thornton, VP of User Experience, and Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain, Senior Design Lead, about the influence design has had on the success of Shopify.


Design is baked into everything we do from the very beginning. Daniel Weinand paved the way for design and helped guide and groom our group.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify

With 3,000+ employees spread across 5 locations and a broad portfolio of products, producing a unified experience for their customers should be a significant challenge for Shopify. But they pull it off deftly thanks in part to Polaris, their design system that’s admired throughout the design community for its comprehensive representation of Shopify’s style, voice, and design philosophy. Polaris is staffed like a product, not a project, with a team dedicated to its maintenance and growth.

We’ve made a concerted effort to make the design systems team a distributed group and one that can be challenged by others if the system needs to grow or change. The design systems team aren’t the gatekeepers of the system, they’re the facilitators of its evolution.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify

With a design system as sophisticated as Shopify’s, it would be easy to consider it the bar all designs need to conform to, but the opposite is true here. Polaris is seen as the baseline for all designs to build upon, but there’s plenty of room to explore and expand on the system.

Polaris is the floor—it’s the baseline of everything we do, but by no means is it the maximum we strive for.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify

Shopify views all leadership positions as an opportunity to serve, and their org chart reflects that.

If you look at our org chart on our internal wiki, you’ll notice that all top leadership positions are at the bottom of the pyramid. That’s because it’s our job as a leader to make sure conditions are right for the people we support to do great work.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify



The first stage is used as opportunity to document the idea and figure out if it’s worth assembling a team to tackle it.


Designated time for team members like Researchers, Product Managers, Designers and the Data team to learn about customers and use cases to provide more context for the project. This time is used to investigate and clarify the problem(s) they’re trying to solve.

We work off a framework called GSD - Get Shit Done. It's designed to provide *just enough* process for a large company to work together, while still being action-oriented.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify


Concepts for the product or feature are explored. Shopify designers sketch and wireframe to ensure they’re exploring the solution space broadly.


Using Polaris as the foundation, the product or feature is built out on a common tech stack with a UI that aligns with the broader Shopify customer experience.


The user feedback cycle is an important part of the process as launch approaches, and post launch too.

Something is not done after launch. The Tweak phase signifies the importance of putting time in after a product has launched to make sure we’ve done what we set out to do.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify

Aligning Efforts

Design, engineering, product, and the CEO align regularly to clarify direction and ensure the teams are collaborating effectively.

Unifying studios

To bring together teams across many locations, the UX teams in each location run local cross-UX meetups each second Friday afternoon. They share a showcase of the design teams’ current work, helping all stay in sync. On the off week the disciplines (eg. Design) meet to discuss more specific challenges and opportunities.

All designers come together annually for Shopify’s own internal conference called UX Summit, which is also streamed across the company. Select engineers and product managers are invited to participate to help align efforts. The conference features thought-provoking talks on things like ethics and tactical talks about best practices.

Org design

Decentralized org structures embed UX within cross-functional teams. Shopify has grown through a number of different organizational models, more recently moving to a decentralized model that better reflects the level of leadership and autonomy they want their teams to have across the company.

A north star and hub

The Core team, which maintains the elements central to the Shopify experience, serves as the hub for all design teams. The Systems team, which manages Polaris, is also part of this team.

The trifecta

Each product line team has control of their roadmap, and is run by a “trifecta” leadership group: Engineering, Product, and Design.


  • Fast communication
  • Autonomy
  • Can organize around the user experience or feature effectively


  • Designers may feel isolated if left without peers
  • If leadership gaps exist, UX risks not having a strong voice
  • Hard to develop a strong design culture when designers are divided
The time was right to decentralize the team when we had really strong UX leadership in a number of areas across the product. We could decentralize whilst being confident in keeping a strong culture and focus on design.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify

Building resilience

Product line teams tend to be small and split across multiple locations, which helps build resilience as people are forced to develop collaboration skills to address the challenges of working separately. The autonomy of individual product lines means employees can build leadership skills on a smaller scale.

Reporting into the C-suite

The VP of UX reports to the CPO, ensuring teams get the support they need and design is part of key strategic plans.

Shopify has a group of senior level UX leaders and principal designers that are responsible for the growth and health of the team, as well as the quality of the experiences shipped across the company.

The UX Programs team supports design across Shopify through education programs and DesignOps to make teams more efficient.

We find that every org structure we create is out of date quickly as we’ve grown so fast. We have to plan for 18 months out to try to predict where we’ll be and what we’ll need.

Lynsey Thornton

VP of User Experience, Shopify

UX Design at Shopify consists of 4 disciplines:

  • Design
  • Front-end
  • Research
  • Content

How Shopify uses InVision

  • Socializing design
  • Getting feedback on current and past versions of work
  • Prototyping
  • Communications around design concepts
  • User testing
Transform your team with InVision. Here’s how.