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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

The most important design detail of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, recommendations to crafting Vienna type icons.


Graphics, that are used in a newly created Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista icons. They are designed using identical structure and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more strict rigorous and more fine way. Glass glares and reserved colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in constant work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Angle of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and rounded.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not pictures of certain items, in GUI they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what program the file is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons contain less details and appear more flat for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high dimension screens. To display icons on those screens in scaled size, saving the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical icons in Windows Vienna consist of five sizes - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are applied for buttons, toolbar or compact pictograms only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create GUI icons for applications running only under Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft states that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not necessary for Windows Vienna and Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's change of size makes the image of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is required. Programs of size changes unfortunately are not flawless and its recommended to include 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the icon to be completely compliant with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows versions as well, you will have to make the icon including corresponding images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and older versions) icon must have following sizes: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to include 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), as this resolution is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want icons for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This allows icons to present semitransparent elements and sleek edges, regardless the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics consist of three types of color depth for backward compatibility :
  • 32- bit colour (24- bit colour ) plus 8-bit transparency channel
  • 8- bit colour (256 colours ) plus 1-bit transparency channel
  • 4- bit colour (16 colors) plus 1-bit transparency channel
Your images need 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to be good all the time, in situation of video driver insufficiency for instance, you will need 8-bit and 4-bit depths (with 256 or even 16 colours only).
An icon in various colour depth

If there are 16 colours displayed by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not provided in the pictogram, the colour scheme will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can see the way it will appear like:
A 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours
This is a 32-bit icon shown in 16 colours.

Vienna icons colour pallet.

Colours in Vienna icons display material of an object or a message (if used in symbols)

  • White - paper (documents )
  • Light grey - silvery plastic (computers and peripherals)
  • Dark blue - switched-on screen (displays and other screens)
  • Light ochre - carton (folders)
  • Blue - glass (basket, lens)
  • Emerald- green - transparent plastic (special folders)
Colours showing the material

  • Red - warning
  • Yellow - attention
  • Green - permission
  • Dark blue - information
Signal colours

Rotation angle and objects grouping.

Unlike previous versions, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are suggested for a software icon or to show the 3D items.

Following objects look better if displayed flat (like they are laying on a table and you look on them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Front or rotated overlaying of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the item and the icon mean. Its hard to give more concrete recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead by the trial and analyze the way the image is understood, also if it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna icons.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to improve recognition and to intensify the volume. In 3D and flat icons the shade is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have an outline. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-type and is not always used. Border is nesessery to ensure recognition of an image, no matter the background it is placed at. Border may be used only a part of an icon always following the design of an icon securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Overview of Vienna-icon architecture
Functional differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

Vienna-icons have two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have an extra large picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG file is a key point as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller resolution pictures will be shown).
PNG-compression is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file size is smaller in almost 4 times while transparency channel is included and picture is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You can always add or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images including all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more intuitive , easy navigation and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , engaging and unique

To get a quality appearance of an application, Microsoft recommends you to modify the look of your mostly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons representing type of a file). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your software with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna style, with individual icons that clearly show application's functions and tasks thanks to appropriate metaphors, they get you to work with the application just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics created in a style that will certainly be another world standard.
You could ask: "Where can I purchase these perfect icons, at a reasonable price and not just like ones but absolute Vienna icons?"

You can do it at: aha-soft.com, perfecticon.com, 777icons.com.

Microsoft, Windows, Windows XP and/or other Microsoft products mentioned above, are either trade marks or registered trade marks of Microsoft.

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