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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

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


Graphics, that are used in a newly released Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista icons. They are created with identical construction and guidelines.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be noticed 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 glares and defined colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish appearance.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not pictures of specific items, in GUI they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what program the file is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons contain less details and appear more plain for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high dimension screens. To show icons on such screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, big images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical icons in Windows Vienna consist of five sizes - 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 symbols only, largest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create GUI icons for software operating only under Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft states that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are unneeded for Windows Vienna and 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 resolution makes the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not flawless and its better to put 48x48 size into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the icon to be fully compliant with not only Windows 7 but older Windows versions as well, you will need to make the icon containing respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Fully compliant (with Windows XP and former versions) icon must have following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to put 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), as this size is not required. Moreover, the icon including this size, is hard to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want images for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna understands 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This allows icons to present semitransparent details and sleek edges, regardless the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna icons consist of three types of color options 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 want your icons to look fine all the time, in situation of video driver failure for example, 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 displayed by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option 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 display material of a subject 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 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 items.

Following items are better when pictured 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

Front or rotated overlaying of additional image in the icon depends on what both the image and the icon mean. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead by the experience and study the way the icon is understood, also when 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 is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two main distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand image 256x256
  • In original icons this grand image has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it brings 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous releases (only smaller resolution images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is applied in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file is smaller in almost 4 times while transparency channel is enabled and picture is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon completely compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always add or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Quality Vienna style icons have the following advantages:
  • visual recognition of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are better displayed
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of software, items and actions
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , stylish and unique

To get a professional appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to edit the design of your mostly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a new design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing type of a file). It is recommended not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in applications operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your software with the most convenient interface, in Vienna style, with individual icons that completely show application's functions and tools due 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 another world standard.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these flawless icons, at a reasonable 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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