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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

The most significant design detail of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, structural distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to making Vienna type icons.


Graphics, that appear in a newly created Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista graphics. They are designed using identical construction and guidelines.

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

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is new in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not pictures of specific items, in interface they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what applications the object is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain fewer details and appear more flat for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high dimension screens. To display icons on those screens in scaled size, saving the quality, large images are required.
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, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make GUI icons for programs running exclusively under Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft states that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not needed for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons is scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's alterations of resolution makes the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 image is needed. Algorithms of size changes unfortunately are not flawless and its recommended to put 48x48 image into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the pictogram to be fully compliant with not only Windows Vienna but older Windows versions also, you will need to make the icon containing corresponding images (each - with three types of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and previous releases) 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 resolution into your icons (except toolbar), because this size is not required. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is difficult to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want icons for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent elements and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Standard Windows Vienna icons contain three levels of color depth 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 be fine all the time, in case 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 displayed by your screen (this may occur in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, below you can get 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

Turn angle and objects grouping.

Not like previous releases, objects in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are recommended for a software icon or to present the volume items.

Some objects are nicer when pictured non- rotated (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 rotated overlaying of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the item and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more concrete suggestion in this case, you just need to be lead by the trial and analyze the way the icon is understood, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is applied to increase recognition and to intensify the volume. In 3D and flat icons the shade is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons often have an outline. Its not so clearly expressed as in XP-style and is not constantly used. Border is nesessery to ensure recognition of an image, regardless the background it is located at. Outline may be used only a part of an icon constantly matching the design of a picture securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have an extra large picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this grand picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG file is a key point as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous versions (only compact resolution pictures will be displayed).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file is smaller in almost 4 times when 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 resolution in the icon must be saved non-compressed. You may always include or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Size of the icon with non-compressed images including all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Quality Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , easy navigation and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , stylish and unique

To get a professional appearance of an application, Microsoft suggests you to modify the look of your commonly viewed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing file types). It is recommended not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in applications operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your application with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that clearly present program's features and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the application just because it's a pleasure to see it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be a new world classic.
You may ask: "Where can I order these flawless icons, 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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