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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

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


Icons, that appear in a newly released Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are created with the same structure and schemes.

First, 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 seen in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI at a glance. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more rigorous but still and more fine way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in constant work and multiple viewing.

Key points of icons creation. Description of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are neat and smoothly round.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not images of specific items, in GUI they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what software the object is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons have less details and look more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To show icons on such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, big images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna consist of 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 interface icons for programs operating only 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 necessary for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic change of resolution makes the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to include 48x48 size into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the pictogram to be fully compatible with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows versions also, you will need to create the icon including respective images (all - with three types of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and previous versions) icon must have following sizes: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not suggest to put 24 x 24 resolution into your icons (except toolbar), because this resolution is not required. Moreover, the icon including this size, is hard to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want images for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna uses 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to present semitransparent elements and sleek edges, regardless the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna graphics consist of three levels of color options 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 be good all the time, in situation 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 occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit depth is not available in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can see 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 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.

Unlike previous releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are suggested for a software icon or to show the 3D items.

Some objects look nicer if pictured non- rotated (like they are laying on a desk and you look on them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Flat or angled placement of additional item in the icon is determined on what both the image and the icon mean. Its difficult to give more detailed suggestion in this situation, you just have to be lead by the trial and study the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is used to improve recognition and to potentiate the volume. In volume and plain icons the shade is 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-type and is not constantly used. Border is required to ensure understanding of an icon, no matter the background it is placed at. Border may be used only a part of an image always following the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two main differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this grand image has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical moment as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and earlier releases (only compact resolution pictures will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is applied in icons for images 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file is reduced in about 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 fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images containing all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna style icons have the following benefits:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is appealing
  • program's features are better displayed
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of programs, items and tasks
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and unique

To get a professional appearance of an application, Microsoft suggests you to edit the design of your mostly displayed icons, using aero style. It is also suggested to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing file types). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your software with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly present program's functions and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they get you to use the program just because it's a pleasure to see it. Graphics created in a style that will certainly be another world standard.
You could ask: "Where can I order these perfect graphics, at a reasonable price and not just like 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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