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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

The most significant design detail of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, construction differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to creation Vienna type icons.


Graphics, which are used in a recently created Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista icons. They are designed using the same construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, created in a more strict rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and reserved colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and borders are soft and rounded.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not pictures of specific items, in GUI they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the object is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons have fewer details and appear 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 required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna contain five resolutions - 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, largest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create interface icons for programs operating only 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 necessary for Windows Vienna and Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, automatic change of resolution makes the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is required. Algorithms of size changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 size into your icons to avoid perversion.

If you need the icon to be completely compatible with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows versions as well, you will have to make the icon containing corresponding images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

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

We do not suggest to include 24 x 24 size into your graphics (except toolbar), because 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 options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are occupied by picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This allows icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are at.

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 icons require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look fine all the time, in case of video driver failure for instance, 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 displayed by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not included in the pictogram, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here 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 grouping.

Unlike older releases, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are suggested for an application icon or to display the volume items.

Following items look nicer when pictured flat (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 overlaying of additional item in the icon is determined on what both the item and the icon mean. Its difficult to give more detailed suggestion in this case, you just have to be guided by the experience and analyze the way the image is understood, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is applied to improve recognition and to intensify the 3D effect. In 3D and flat icons the shadow looks 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-type and is not constantly used. Border is required to make possible recognition of an icon, no matter the background it is placed at. Outline may be used only a part of an icon constantly following the design of an image securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large image 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous releases (only smaller size images will be shown).
PNG-compression is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not affect the quality and file is smaller in almost 4 times when transparency channel is supported and image is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon completely compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You can always add or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following advantages:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly presented
  • usage is more convenient , easy search and identification of software, objects and tasks
  • your program's GUI is advanced , engaging and individual

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

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your software with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that clearly present program's features and tools thanks to proper metaphors, they get you to use the program just because it's a joy to look at it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I purchase 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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