Icons for Windows Vienna: Design and structure.

Important guide to Windows Vienna icon design features and structure

Basically, the structure and design scheme for Windows Vienna icons is the same as that of Windows Vista icons. They are made in the aero style, quite different from what older versions of Windows sport. It is stricter in some senses but still very fine, the glass glare and conservative colors reducing eye strain.

Icons’ Style

The style of Windows Vienna icons looks very technologically advanced. The images come alive with their well-calculated angle rotation, along with the fact that they now face a light source. Also, the edges are smoothed and the icons drop a shadow, which adds both volume, intensified even more with gradients, and contrast. Many of the elements are outlined to make the icons more well-defined.

How is the New Style Better?

Although the Windows Vienna icon style is very detailed, it is not photorealistic, which is good, since an icon is just a symbol. Plus, the icons actually show what the applications are, as opposed to the more general approach taker earlier. The toolbars have decreased in size and complexity, so now they’re easier to accommodate in small devices like cell phones. With their maximal 256 x 256 size, icons are also well-suited to high resolution screens.

Size of Icons

There are five standard sizes for Windows Vienna icons- 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 pixels. Icons for menus, toolbars and small symbols don’t need to reach max size. It is recommended by the Microsoft Corporation that you use just three sizes for icons designed solely for Windows Vienna- 256 x 256, 32 x 32, and 16 x 16 pixels.

PNG files scale without distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32 pixels, which is why you don’t need any other size between them for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista. The 16 x 16 resolution is necessary for smaller icons because they would distort if you used any of the other resolutions. A 48 x 48 icon is at less risk for distortion, so it might be a good idea to use that size instead of 32 and 16 in many cases.

For your icon to be compatible with all Windows operating systems, it needs to be formatted for three color depths. Fully compatible icons require the 48 x 48 pixel resolution in addition to 256, 32 and 16. However, you might have noticed that 24 x 24 is never required, and we don’t encourage you to use it unless the icon is just for toolbars. Windows 98 and 2000 sometimes have difficulty with this size, so 16 is best for toolbar icons meant to function with all versions.

Windows Vienna Icons’ Color Depth

32-bit icons in Windows Vienna can have 24 bits for the picture and 8 for the transparency channel. That way, you can have smooth edges and semitransparent details on your icons. The other two options are 8-bit (256 colors with 1-bit transparency channel) and 4-bit (16 colors with 1-bit transparency channel). 32-bit is ideal, but, in case of video driver failure or some such problem, you should also have 8-bit and 4-bit versions to avoid distortion.

The three color depths (left to right) – 32-bit, 8-bit, and 4-bit; Far Right- 32-bit icon in 4-bit color
An icon in various colour depth

A 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours

The Color Pallet

Different colors are assigned to show the material and communicate certain information about Windows Vienna icons. White is for paper, light grey indicates a silvery plastic (computers/peripherals), dark blue means an active screen (displays, etc), light ochre designates a  carton (i.e. folders), blue is for glass (basket or lens) and emerald green specifies transparent plastic (special folders). The colors of Windows Vienna icons also have other meanings, such as red for warning, yellow for attention, green for permission and dark blue for information.

Colours showing the material

Rotation Angle, Overlaying and Grouping

45? clockwise is the angle of choice for Windows Vienna icons. Angles are a good idea for application icons or just to show volume. However, some icons- such as files icons, flat objects and anything 16 x 16- look better when they aren’t rotated.
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects
Overlaying and grouping can’t really be guided by rules. Just go by experience and whether or not the additions clarify the meaning or just get in the way. Examine the following icons.
Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Dropping shadows

You should use shadows to make icons easier to recognize and increase their volume, which often improves their appearance. (Right)


Drop shadow of volume and flat objects


Although not as vivid as the Windows XP icons’ outlines, those of the Windows Vienna icons still help tremendously with recognition and make an icon seem more realistic.
Various kinds of outline
Icon Structure

Function: Vienna Versus XP Icons

Windows Vienna icons that are 256 x 256 pixels can utilize PNG compression. PNG compression is only used for this icon resolution; it doesn’t affect quality, scale or transparency in the least and it reduces the file size to as little as 25%. The only downside is that PNG-compressed icons don’t function with Windows XP or earlier versions of Windows. You can fix this by supplying a non-compressed version of the image. In standard formats, a 256 x 256 icon will be about 400 Kb uncompressed.

Summary: Why Windows Vienna Icons?
Professional Windows Vienna icons are visually more aesthetically pleasing, they communicate a program’s functions better, and therefore it’s easier to find the right programs, and they make your program look more stylishly individualized and technologically advanced.

Therefore, Microsoft recommends that you change your most-viewed icons’ style to this aero look, such as those in the Start Menu and Windows Explorer, which includes the icons that show the type of file. Microsoft does not recommend using any icons designed for Windows 9x or older in Windows Vienna.

How to Get Vienna/Aero-Style Icons

So now you know that better icons make a better user experience and therefore more business for your company. The next thing you need to do is find an icon design firm that will handle the conversion from your old style to the new, and those can be found all over the internet. Make sure you contact a firm that will follow the basic rules outlined above, and you will definitely be pleased with the results.

Products named above made by Microsoft, Windows, or Windows XP are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft.

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