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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most significant 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 recently created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created using the same construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Major changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more rigorous but still and more beautiful way. Glass glares and defined colours make icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and smoothly round.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with additional lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not images of specific items, in interface they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the file is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons contain fewer details and look 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 show icons on those screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, big images are needed.
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 used for buttons, toolbar or compact symbols only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make GUI icons for applications operating exclusively under Windows Vienna in the listed 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 can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic alterations of resolution deliver the image of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is needed. Algorithms of size changes however are not flawless and its recommended to include 48x48 size into your icons to avoid perversion.

If you need the pictogram to be fully compatible with not only Windows Vienna but older Windows releases as well, you will need to create the icon including corresponding images (each - with three types of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and former versions) icon should have following sizes: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

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

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna uses 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent elements and sleek edges, regardless the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna icons consist of three levels 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 require 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to be fine all the time, in situation of video driver failure for example, you will need 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 monitor (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 get 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 display material of a subject 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 grouping.

Unlike previous releases, objects in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are recommended for an application icon or to show the 3D objects.

Following items look better if displayed 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

Flat or rotated placement of additional item in the icon is determined on what both the item and the icon represent. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this situation, you just have to be lead by the trial and analyze the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have an outline. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-style and is not always used. Outline is required to ensure recognition of an image, regardless the background it is located at. Border may be used only a part of an image constantly following the design of an icon securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand image 256x256
  • In typicall icons this large picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a critical point as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller size images will be displayed).
PNG-compression is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file size is smaller in almost 4 times while transparency channel is supported and image is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You can always include or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images containing all standard formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is appealing
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more convenient , easy navigation and identification of programs, objects and tasks
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and unique

To get a quality appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to edit the look of your commonly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also suggested to make a new design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons representing file types). It is recommended not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your application with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna style, with unique icons that completely show program's functions and tools due to proper metaphors, they get you to work with the software just because it's a pleasure to see it. Icons created in a style that will certainly be a new world standard.
You may 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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