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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

The most significant design features of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, recommendations to making Vienna style icons.


Graphics, which appear in a recently released Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista graphics. They are designed with the same construction and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more strict but still and more fine way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Degree of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and smoothly round.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish look.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not illustrations of certain items, in GUI they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what software the file is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons contain less details and appear more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high resolution screens. To display icons on such screens in proportional size, saving the quality, large images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical icons in Windows Vienna contain five sizes - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are applied for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, biggest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make GUI icons for applications operating exclusively in Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that interim sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not needed for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's alterations of resolution makes the picture of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 image is needed. Programs of size changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to include 48x48 size into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the pictogram to be completely compatible with not only Windows 7 but former Windows versions also, you will need to create the icon including respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and older releases) icon must have following sizes: 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), as this resolution is not required. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is difficult to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want images for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna understands 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent details and sleek edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics contain three types of color depth for increased 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 icons need 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to look fine 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 displayed by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not available in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, below you can see the way it will look like:
A 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours
This is a 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours.

Vienna icons colour pallet.

Colours in Vienna graphics show 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 combination.

Unlike former releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are recommended for a software icon or to display the volume objects.

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

Flat or rotated placement of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the graphic mean. Its hard to give more detailed suggestion in this case, you just have to be lead by the trial and study the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is applied to improve recognition and to potentiate the volume. In volume and plain icons the shade is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have an outline. Its not so clearly expressed as in XP-style and is not constantly used. Outline is nesessery to ensure understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may be used only a part of an image always matching the design of an icon securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Overview of Vienna-icon architecture
Main distinctions of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

Vienna-icons contain two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have a grand picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical moment as it brings 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller size images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file size is smaller in almost 4 times when transparency channel is supported 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 must be saved non-compressed. You can always include or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all standard formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the following benefits:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly presented
  • usage is more convenient , simple navigation and identification of software, objects and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , engaging and individual

To get a professional appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to modify the look of your mostly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing type of a file). It is recommended not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in applications running under Windows Vienna.

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your program with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna style, with unique icons that completely show application's functions and tasks due to proper metaphors, they make you to work with the program just because it's a pleasure to see it. Icons made in a style that will definitely be a new world standard.
You could ask: "Where can I order these flawless icons, 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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