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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

The most important design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, structural distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to creation Vienna type icons.


Graphics, which are used in a newly released Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista graphics. They are created using identical construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, created in a more rigorous rigorous and more fine way. Glass glares and reserved colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Degree of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not images of certain items, in interface they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what program the object is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons contain less details and appear more flat 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 such screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, big images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical 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 buttons, toolbar or compact pictograms only, largest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for applications 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 not necessary for Windows Vienna and Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons can be scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic alterations of resolution deliver the image of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is required. Programs of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 size into your icons to avoid distortion.

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

Fully compliant (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 recommend to put 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), as this size is not necessary. Moreover, the icon including this size, is hard to be compliant 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 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, no matter of the background they are at.

Standard Windows Vienna icons contain three types of color depth for increased compatibility :
  • 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 need 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to look good all the time, in case of video driver failure for example, 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 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 shifted down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may appear 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 graphics show 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.

Not like older versions, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are recommended for a software icon or to present the 3D objects.

Following objects look better if pictured flat (like they are laying on a table 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 a second image in the icon depends on what both the image and the graphic represent. Its hard to give more concrete suggestion in this situation, you just need to be guided by the experience and analyze the way the icon is understood, also if 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 increase recognition and to potentiate the volume. In 3D and flat icons the shade looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have an outline. Its not so vividly visible as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Outline is required to make possible understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an image always matching the design of an icon securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two main differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large image has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical point as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous releases (only compact size images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is applied in icons for size 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not change the quality and file is smaller in almost 4 times while transparency channel is included and image is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon fully compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon must be saved uncompressed. You can always include or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images including all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the following benefits:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , simple search and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your program's GUI is advanced , engaging and unique

To get a quality appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests 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 presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons representing file types). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your program with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna style, with individual icons that clearly show program's features and tools due to proper metaphors, they make you to use the program just because it's a pleasure to see it. Graphics made in a style that will definitely be a new world standard.
You may ask: "Where can I purchase these perfect icons, at a competitive price and not just like 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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