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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

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


Icons, that are used in a recently created Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created with identical construction and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made 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 distinctive detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more strict but still and more fine way. Glass glares and reserved colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in constant work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Angle of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and borders are soft and rounded.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not illustrations of certain items, in interface they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what applications the file is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons have fewer details and look more plain for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To display icons on those screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, big 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 buttons, toolbar or compact symbols only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create interface icons for applications operating exclusively under Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft states that interim sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not necessary for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's alterations of size deliver the picture of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not flawless and its better to put 48x48 image into your icons to have less perversion.

If you need the icon to be fully compliant with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows releases as well, you will have to create the icon including respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and former versions) icon should contain following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to include 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), because this size is not necessary. Moreover, the icon including 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 options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna icons consist of three types 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 need your icons to be good all the time, in case of video driver failure for instance, you will require 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 happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not available in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may 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 icons show material of a subject 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

Rotation angle and objects grouping.

Not like former versions, objects in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are suggested for an application icon or to show the 3D items.

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

Plain or angled placement of additional item in the icon is determined on what both the item and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more concrete recommendation in this case, you just need to be guided by the trial and study the way the image is comprehended, also if it is in a group 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 3D effect. In 3D and flat icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons usually have an outline. Its not so clearly expressed as in XP-style and is not always used. Border is nesessery to ensure understanding of an icon, no matter the background it is located at. Outline may be used only a part of an icon constantly matching the design of an icon securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

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

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get 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. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual recognition of application's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more intuitive , easy navigation and identification of software, objects and tasks
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

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

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your software with the most convenient interface, in Vienna style, with individual icons that clearly show application's functions and tasks due to proper metaphors, they get you to use the application just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be a new world standard.
You could ask: "Where do I order these flawless icons, at a reasonable 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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