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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

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


Icons, which appear in a newly released Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are created using the same construction and guidelines.

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

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Angle of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and rounded.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not pictures of certain items, in interface they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what program the object is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain fewer details and look more flat for optimizing 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 proportional size, saving the quality, big images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard 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 used for menu, toolbar or compact symbols only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make GUI icons for software operating only in Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not needed for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons is scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's change of resolution deliver the picture of bad quality, so a separate 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 have less perversion.

If you need the pictogram to be fully compatible with not only Windows 7 but other Windows releases also, you will have to create the icon including corresponding images (each - with three types of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and former versions) icon should contain 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 graphics (except toolbar), as this size is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon containing this size, is difficult to be compatible 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 icons.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons where 24 bits are occupied by image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This enables icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are at.

Standard Windows Vienna graphics 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 case 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 screen (this may happen in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not included in the pictogram, the colour scheme will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, below you can get the way it may look 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 show material of an object or a signal (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 versions, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are suggested for a software icon or to present the volume items.

Some objects are better when 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 icon represent. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this situation, you just have to be guided by the experience and study 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 applied to increase recognition and to intensify the volume. In volume and flat icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons often have an outline. Its not so clearly expressed as in XP-type and is not always used. Outline is required to make possible recognition of an image, regardless the background it is placed at. Border may be used only a part of an icon always matching the design of an image securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two main distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a key moment as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous versions (only compact size pictures will be shown).
PNG-compression is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file size is reduced in about 4 times while transparency channel is enabled and image is perfectly scale.

Compliance 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 uncompressed. You can always add or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual recognition of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are better presented
  • usage is more intuitive , simple navigation and identification of software, objects and tasks
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get a professional appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to change the design of your commonly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also suggested to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons representing file types). It is recommended not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your software with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna style, with individual icons that clearly present application's features and tools due to proper metaphors, they get you to use the application just because it's a joy to see it. Icons created in a style that will certainly be a new world classic.
You may ask: "Where can I purchase these perfect graphics, at a competitive price and not just similar 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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