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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

The most significant design features of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, construction distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to crafting Vienna style icons.


Graphics, that appear in a newly created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical structure and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A distinctive detail of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more strict but still and more beautiful way. Glass glares and reserved colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in constant work and multiple viewing.

Key points of icons creation. Description of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Degree of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Items' angles and edges are neat 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?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not illustrations of certain items, in interface they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what applications the file is related to.
  • Toolbar icons have fewer details and look more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To show icons on those screens in proportional size, saving the quality, big images are needed.
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 applied for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make GUI icons for programs running only in Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that interim 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 perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's alterations of resolution makes the picture of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 image is needed. Algorithms of size changes however are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 size into your icons to avoid perversion.

If you want the pictogram to be completely compliant with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows versions also, you will have to create the icon containing respective images (each - with three types of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and previous releases) icon should contain following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to include 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), because this size is not necessary. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compatible 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 icons.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are occupied by picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This lets icons to have semitransparent details and sleek edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna icons consist of three levels 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 icons require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look fine all the time, in case of video driver insufficiency for instance, you will require 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 available in the pictogram, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may appear 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 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.

Unlike older versions, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are recommended for a software icon or to display the volume items.

Some objects look nicer when pictured non- rotated (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

Flat 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 situation, you just have to be guided by the experience and analyze the way the icon is understood, also if it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is applied to increase recognition and to potentiate the 3D effect. In volume and plain icons the shade is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons often have a border. Its not so vividly visible as in XP-type and is not always used. Border is nesessery to ensure recognition of an image, regardless the background it is located at. Border may take only a part of an icon constantly following the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have a grand image 256x256
  • In original icons this grand image has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a key point as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous releases (only smaller resolution images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file size is smaller in almost 4 times while transparency channel is supported and image is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon must be saved uncompressed. You can always include or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images containing all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following benefits:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is appealing
  • program's features are better presented
  • usage is more intuitive , simple navigation and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get an advanced appearance of an application, Microsoft recommends you to edit the look 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 (considering icons showing file types). It is suggested not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and older version style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your program with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna style, with individual icons that clearly show program's features and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they make you to use the application just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics created in a style that will definitely be a new world classic.
You could ask: "Where can 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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