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Icons for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

The most significant design detail of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to making Vienna style icons.


Graphics, which are used in a recently released Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical construction and guidelines.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Major alterations in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more strict rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass glares and defined colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and rounded.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not images of certain items, in interface they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the file is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons contain less details and appear more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high dimension screens. To display icons on such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical 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 small pictograms only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create interface icons for programs operating exclusively in Windows Vienna in the listed 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 needed for Windows Vienna and 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 change of size makes the image of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is needed. Algorithms of size changes unfortunately are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be fully compliant with not only Windows 7 but older Windows versions also, you will have to create the icon including corresponding images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and older versions) icon should contain 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), as this resolution is not required. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need icons for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics contain three levels 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 be 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 screen (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option is not included in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, below you can see the way it may look 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 display 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 releases, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are recommended for a software icon or to display the volume items.

Some items look nicer when pictured flat (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

Front or angled placement of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the graphic represent. Its hard to give more concrete recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead by the experience and study the way the icon is comprehended, also when 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 3D effect. In volume and flat icons the shade is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this large image has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a key point as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and earlier versions (only smaller resolution pictures will be displayed).
PNG-compression is applied in icons for images 256x256 px only. The compression does not affect the quality and file size is reduced in almost 4 times while transparency channel is enabled and image is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You can always add or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images containing all standard formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are better presented
  • usage is more convenient , simple navigation and identification of software, items and tasks
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get a professional appearance of a program, Microsoft recommends you to edit the look of your mostly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also suggested to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons showing type of a file). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in applications running under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your application with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that completely present application's functions and tools due to proper metaphors, they get you to work with the program just because it's a pleasure to see it. Icons created in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I order these perfect graphics, 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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