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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most significant design features of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, recommendations to creation Vienna style icons.


Graphics, which are used in a recently released Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista icons. They are designed using the same construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant alterations in icons' design can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more rigorous rigorous and more fine way. Glass highlights and reserved colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish appearance.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not images of specific items, in GUI they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what applications 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 show icons on those screens in proportional size, keeping 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 applied for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, largest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make interface icons for applications running exclusively under 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 unneeded for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files 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 deliver the image of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is needed. Algorithms of resolution changes however are not flawless and its recommended to put 48x48 image into your icons to have less perversion.

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

Fully compliant (with Windows XP and former releases) icon should have following resolutions: 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), because this size is not required. Moreover, the icon including this size, is hard to be compliant 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 uses 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are reserved for picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics contain three types 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 need 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 need 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 happen in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit depth is not available in the pictogram, 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 shown 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 combination.

Not like previous versions, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are suggested for an application icon or to show the volume objects.

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

Front or rotated placement of a second item in the icon is determined on what both the image and the icon mean. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead by the experience and analyze the way the icon is understood, also if 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 3D effect. In 3D and flat icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline 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 make possible recognition of an icon, no matter the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an icon always matching the design of an image securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

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

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon fully compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon must be saved uncompressed. You may always include or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is appealing
  • program's features are better displayed
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of software, objects and tasks
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

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

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your application with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna style, with individual icons that clearly present application's functions and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they get you to use the software just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics created in a style that will definitely be a new world standard.
You could ask: "Where do I purchase these perfect icons, at a competitive price and not just like ones but real 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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