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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

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


Graphics, which appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical construction and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant changes in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more strict rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not illustrations of certain items, in GUI they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what program the file is assigned to.
  • Buttons 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 display icons on those screens in proportional 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 used for menu, toolbar or small pictograms only, largest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make interface icons for applications operating only in Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm 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 can be scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, automatic alterations of size makes the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of resolution changes however are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be completely compatible with not only Windows Vienna but former Windows releases also, you will have to create the icon including respective images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and previous versions) icon must contain 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 graphics (except toolbar), as this size is not necessary. Moreover, the icon containing 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 depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This allows icons to present semitransparent elements and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna graphics consist of three levels of color depth for increased 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 situation of video driver insufficiency for example, you will require 8-bit and 4-bit images (with 256 or even 16 colours only).
An icon in various colour depth

If there are 16 colours shown 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 reduced down to 16 colours, below you can see the way it will 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 show 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

Turn angle and objects combination.

Unlike former releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are recommended for a software icon or to show the volume items.

Following objects are nicer if displayed flat (like they are down on a desk and you look on them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Plain or rotated placement of a second image in the icon depends on what both the image and the icon mean. Its hard to give more concrete suggestion in this case, you just need to be guided by the experience and analyze the way the icon is comprehended, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to improve recognition and to potentiate the volume. In volume and plain icons the shade looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have an outline. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-style and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to make possible understanding of an icon, no matter the background it is placed at. Border may be used only a part of an icon constantly following the design of an icon securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this large image has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a key point as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous versions (only compact size images will be displayed).
PNG-compression is applied in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not affect the quality and file is reduced in about 4 times while transparency channel is supported and picture 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 non-compressed. You can always include or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the following advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are better displayed
  • usage is more convenient , simple navigation and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get an advanced appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to modify the design of your commonly 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 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 convenient interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly show application's functions and tasks due to proper metaphors, they get you to work with the program just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics created in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You may ask: "Where can I purchase these flawless icons, 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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