Design System Safari at Amsterdam UMC

For this Design System Safari we were invited by Robert van de Linde, designer at the Amsterdam UMC. Recently, the board of Amsterdam UMC and VUmc hospital joined forces. Represented as one overarching hospital, all internal and external communication needs to feel consistent. A huge challenge for Robert, being the only digital designer in an organisation of 22.000 people (!!).

Anna and Robert talking
Robert and Anna during the Design System Safari

Robert started his career as a graphic designer/artist. 8 years ago he joined the Amsterdam UMC as a webdesigner. He is part of the department of internal and external communication, located right in the middle of the hospital. In the last 8 years developed a lot more skills than just graphic design. Robert does some visual design, UX design and little bit of front-end every now and then.

When you’re part of a small in-house team, you have to be able to do a bit of everything.


We talked with Robert about starting his Design System, the challenges he faces in setting it up and being the only designer in an organisation of 22.000 people.

Developer hand-off

Even though Robert is the only designer in his team he felt the need for a more structured workflow. Especially considering developer hand-off, since he’s working a lot with external developers. By adopting Atomic Design and making agreements about how they work together, collaboration would be a lot easier and faster.

The collaboration Robert pointed out here is exactly what Design Systems are about. Design Systems aren’t only about components, but is for 80% about governance. Our Design System Proces Puzzle could help you define your process together with your team.

His first step was a static style guide, but it didn’t feel quite right. Robert illustrated this beautifully: the style guide felt like a pile of Lego bricks. Bricks are great for building, but the outcomes can be completely different when there are no instructions. Besides colors and fonts, they need ‘instructions’ to create this consistent user experience. That’s why Robert started working on a more living library in Frontify. As he calls it: Design System 1.0!

A styleguide is like a pile of Lego, without instructions it can become anything.

Sketch + Abstract + Frontify

As a designer, Robert mainly works in Sketch. We were really impressed by the amount of work he already put in his Sketch library. Practically all elements you can think of using for the Amsterdam UMC are part of the library as smart components. This helps Robert a lot in speeding up the design. With all elements being in place it might just take one day to redesign a full Amsterdam UMC app.

With this Sketch Library I can easily redesign one of the AMC apps in just one day


Robert uses Sketch in combination with Abstract for version control. Even though it’s just for him, it helps to keep his work structured and easy to find back any changes he made.

Screenshot of Abstract
Abstract environment of Amsterdam UMC

Amsterdam UMC is mostly a Windows-oriented environment. To make the Design System accessible by his colleagues, he chose to use Frontify for Design System 1.0. For developer hand off, Robert uses Abstract. Abstract helps external developers implementing elements in a consistent way.

The Frontify environment is set up in two main categories: ‘base elements’ and ‘guidelines’. Base elements consists all basic elements, sorted in an Atomic Design way (atoms and molecules). Robert chose to start with the most visible parts like colors, fonts, buttons, shapes and icons. Guidelines focus more on how to use these elements. For example how and when to use certain colors or avatars.

Adding the external front-end developers to Abstract was a huge success. Robert: “the designer and front-end developer I’m working with are so happy!”. There is a lot less confusion in collaboration.

💡 Tip: Define a Minimal Viable Design System for your organization. What do you really need as a team? What could you start with? Our checklist can help you get more focus.

Finding allies

One of the challenges Robert is facing is that design/digital isn’t core-business at the hospital. That’s why development of a Design System is not a top priority. His advice? Try to find some allies and partners in the organization. He explains: “this Design System would really help with branding, so I’m now partnering with someone who’s involved in the overall branding of the hospital, he/she can help me spread the word through other parts of the organization.”

Expanding the Design System

When we spoke with Robert about his plans for the upcoming months, his approach is all about making impact. Starting with parts of our online presence which are very visible to stakeholders and visitors. In this case it will be the corporate website.

Another wish is to also include his content colleagues. He explained his colleagues have a lot of freedom within the CMS (GX). According to Robert, a great addition would be if they had agreements on how to set up articles on the website. Things like: structure of the pages, what are we communicating, tone-of-voice etc.

The possibilities we offer are maybe a bit too much, people get very creative 🙂

Robert showing the Design System of AMC
Robert showing the AMC Design System

3 tips from Amsterdam UMC

We asked Robert what his 3 tips would be for other designers in the same situation. What would you advise them when they want to start with their own Design System?

  • Use your freedom and create your own role. Being alone can be an impediment, but if you turn it around, you have a lot of opportunities to shape things the way you like it.
  • Just do it! It’s that easy, just start somewhere. Even though you have just a small part of your Design System, you can start looking for allies within your organization.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed by all the big companies like Airbnb. You are not like them. Choose the things which have the most impact in your organization. “Others will probably move faster than you, but so be it!”

Meer over Design Systems?

Ben je benieuwd hoe andere organisaties in Nederland Design Systems bouwen en onderhouden? Lees dan onze uitgebreide onderzoek State of Design Systems in Nederlands, 2018.

Of bezoek onze Meetups over Design Systems of download onze tools.

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