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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

The most important design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, construction distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to making Vienna style icons.


Icons, that appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista graphics. 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 changes 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, designed in a more strict but still and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Angle of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not pictures of specific items, in GUI they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what applications the file is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain fewer details and appear more plain 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 such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, big images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna contain 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 compact pictograms only, biggest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create GUI icons for applications operating only under Windows Vienna in the following 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 not necessary for Windows Vienna and Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons can be scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic alterations of size deliver the image of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of resolution changes however are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be fully compliant with not only Windows 7 but former Windows releases also, you will have to make the icon containing respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and older releases) icon must contain 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 icons (except toolbar), as 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 icons.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons where 24 bits are occupied by image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics contain three types of color options for increased 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 want your icons to be fine all the time, in situation of video driver insufficiency for instance, 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 displayed by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option is not available in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it will 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 graphics 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 graphics are suggested for an application icon or to present the volume objects.

Following objects are nicer when displayed non- rotated (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 overlaying of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the item and the icon mean. Its difficult to give more concrete suggestion in this situation, you just need to be lead by the experience and study the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop 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 is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons often have a border. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-style and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to ensure understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may be used only a part of an image constantly following the design of an image securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two main distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this grand picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG file is a critical moment as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and earlier versions (only compact resolution images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not change the quality and file size 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 make the icon completely compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always add or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images containing all standard formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the following benefits:
  • visual recognition of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are better presented
  • usage is more intuitive , easy navigation and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , engaging and unique

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

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your software with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna style, with unique icons that clearly present application's functions and tasks thanks to appropriate metaphors, they make you to work with the program just because it's a joy to look at it. Icons made in a style that will certainly be another world standard.
You may ask: "Where can I order these flawless graphics, 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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