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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most important design detail of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, construction distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to making Vienna style icons.


Icons, that are used in a recently created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created with identical structure and guidelines.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Major changes in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, created in a more rigorous but still and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and reserved colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in constant work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and borders are neat and rounded.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is new in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not illustrations of certain items, in interface they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what applications the object is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain less details and look more plain for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To display icons on such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard 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 buttons, toolbar or small pictograms only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for applications operating only in 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 files used in these icons can be scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's alterations of size deliver the picture of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 image is needed. Programs of size changes unfortunately are not flawless and its better to put 48x48 image into your icons to have less perversion.

If you need the icon to be fully compliant with not only Windows Vienna but former Windows versions also, you will need to create the icon containing respective images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and previous 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), because 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 resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons where 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to present semitransparent details and sleek edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna icons consist of three types of color depth 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 images require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to be fine all the time, in situation of video driver insufficiency for instance, 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 monitor (this may occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not included in the pictogram, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it will appear 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 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.

Not like previous versions, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are suggested for a software icon or to display the volume objects.

Some objects are better if pictured flat (like they are laying on a table and you look over 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 is determined on what both the item and the icon mean. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just need to be guided by the trial and analyze the way the image is comprehended, also if 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 intensify the 3D effect. In 3D and flat icons the shade looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons usually have an outline. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Border is required to ensure understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is located at. Outline may be used only a part of an image always matching the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Review of Vienna-icon architecture
Main differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

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

Compatibility 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 uncompressed. You can always add or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Size of the icon with non-compressed images containing all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of programs, objects and tasks
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , engaging and unique

To get an advanced appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to change the design of your mostly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also suggested to make a modern design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons showing file types). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older version style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your application with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that completely present program's features and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they get you to work with the software just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I purchase these perfect icons, 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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