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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most significant design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, construction differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, recommendations to crafting Vienna type icons.


Icons, which appear in a recently released Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista icons. They are created with the same construction and schemes.

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

Key points of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a source of light now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are intuitive images and not images of certain items, in interface they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what program the file is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain less details and look more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To show icons on such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, large images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard 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 applied for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for software 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 unneeded for Windows Vienna and Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons can be 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 required. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 image into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the pictogram to be completely compatible with not only Windows Vienna but former Windows releases as well, you will need to make the icon containing respective images (all - with three types of colour depth).

Fully compliant (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 include 24 x 24 resolution into your icons (except toolbar), because this resolution is not necessary. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need icons for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna icons.

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

Standard Windows Vienna icons contain 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 icons require 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to look good all the time, in situation of video driver failure 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 shown by your screen (this may occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not available in the pictogram, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced 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 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

Rotation angle and objects combination.

Unlike former releases, objects in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are suggested for an application icon or to present the 3D objects.

Some objects are nicer if pictured non- rotated (like they are laying on a desk 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 represent. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead by the trial and analyze the way the image is understood, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna icons.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is applied to increase recognition and to potentiate the volume. In 3D and flat icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

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

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

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images containing all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , easy search and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , engaging and unique

To get a professional appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to edit 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 (including icons representing file types). It is suggested not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your program with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna style, with unique icons that completely show application's features and tasks due to appropriate metaphors, they make you to work with the software just because it's a joy to look at it. Icons made in a style that will certainly be another world standard.
You could ask: "Where do I purchase these perfect icons, at a competitive 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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