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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

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


Icons, that are used in a newly released Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista graphics. They are designed with identical structure and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Major changes in icons' design can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A distinctive detail of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more strict rigorous and more fine way. Glass glares and defined colours make icons appealing for eyes, not annoying in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Items' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish look.
What is new in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not pictures of certain items, in interface they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the file is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons have less details and look more plain for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high dimension screens. To show icons on such screens in proportional size, saving the quality, big images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna contain 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 symbols only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make interface icons for programs running only under Windows Vienna in the listed 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 format used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic alterations of size makes the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is needed. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you need the pictogram to be fully compatible with not only Windows 7 but older Windows versions also, you will need to make the icon including corresponding images (all - with three types of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and older releases) icon should contain following sizes: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to include 24 x 24 resolution into your graphics (except toolbar), as this resolution is not required. Moreover, the icon including 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 depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna understands 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This enables icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics consist of three types of color options for backward 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 images require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to be fine all the time, in case of video driver insufficiency 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 shown by your monitor (this may occur in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option is not provided in the pictogram, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may 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 icons display 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 former releases, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are recommended for an application icon or to present the 3D objects.

Following items are nicer when pictured flat (like they are down on a table and you look over 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 depends on what both the item and the graphic represent. Its hard to give more detailed suggestion in this case, you just have to be guided 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

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to improve recognition and to intensify the 3D effect. In 3D and plain icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

Overview of Vienna-icon structure
Main distinctions of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

Vienna-icons have two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have a grand picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this large picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and earlier releases (only compact size pictures will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is applied in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file is reduced in almost 4 times when transparency channel is enabled and picture is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon completely compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always include or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the following benefits:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are more clearly presented
  • usage is more intuitive , easy navigation and identification of programs, items and tasks
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get a quality appearance of a software, Microsoft recommends you to change the design of your commonly displayed icons, with 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 apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your software with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that clearly show application's functions and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the software 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 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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