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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

The most important design detail of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, guidance to making Vienna type icons.


Graphics, that are used in a recently released Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista graphics. They are created using the same structure and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant alterations in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI at a glance. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more strict rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass glares and reserved colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Degree of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not illustrations of certain items, in interface they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what program the object is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons have less details and appear more plain for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high dimension screens. To show icons on such screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, large images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical icons in Windows Vienna consist of five resolutions - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are used for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, biggest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create GUI icons for applications running exclusively 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 needed 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 more compact sizes, automatic alterations of resolution makes the image of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is required. Algorithms of resolution changes however are not flawless and its recommended to include 48x48 image into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be completely compliant with not only Windows 7 but older Windows versions as well, you will have to make the icon including respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and previous releases) icon should contain following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to put 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), because this size is not required. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want images for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons where 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This allows icons to have semitransparent elements and smooth edges, regardless the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics consist of three levels of color options for backward compliance :
  • 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 want your icons to look good all the time, in situation of video driver insufficiency for instance, you will require 8-bit and 4-bit images (with 256 or even 16 colours only).
An icon in various colour depth

If there are 16 colours shown by your screen (this may occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can see the way it may 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

Turn angle and objects combination.

Not like older versions, objects in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are recommended for a software icon or to present the volume items.

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

Front or rotated placement of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the item and the graphic mean. Its hard to give more detailed suggestion in this situation, you just need to be lead by the experience and study the way the image is comprehended, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to increase recognition and to potentiate the volume. In 3D and plain icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have an outline. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-type and is not always used. Outline is required to make possible understanding of an image, regardless the background it is located at. Outline may take only a part of an icon always matching the design of an image 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 distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large image 256x256
  • In original icons this grand image has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it brings 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and earlier versions (only compact size pictures will be displayed).
PNG-compression is applied in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file size is smaller in almost 4 times when transparency channel is supported and image is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon must be saved non-compressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more convenient , simple navigation and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get an advanced appearance of a software, Microsoft recommends you to modify the design of your commonly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also suggested to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing type of a file). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your program with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna style, with individual icons that clearly present program's features and tasks due to proper metaphors, they make you to use the program just because it's a joy to look at it. Icons created in a style that will definitely be another world standard.
You could ask: "Where can I purchase these perfect graphics, at a competitive price and not just similar ones but real 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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