Visual Studio 11 User Interface Updates Coming in RC

Visual Studio 11 User Interface Updates Coming in RC

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With the release of Visual Studio 11 Beta back in February of this year, we introduced changes to the user experience based on two core design principles, the first being to give you more space for your content and the second being to draw more focus to that content. Since the debut of these changes there’s been significant community response and feedback. We’ve taken this feedback and based on what we heard have made a number of changes planned for Visual Studio 11 RC. I want to thank you for your continued feedback through this blog, and also through the various other community channels - please keep it coming.

The purpose of this post is to provide you with an update on the changes we’ve made since beta. I’ve also included a brief summary of the beta feedback that we’ve leveraged in making these updates.

Beta Feedback

We have been fortunate in getting a lot of actionable user feedback relating to the Visual Studio 11 Beta release. In sorting through the feedback we found it to be primarily focused on three aspects of the new themes.

  • An overall desire for more visual “energy” and contrast
  • Calls for a more balanced application of Metro styling
  • A desire for greater icon clarity and differentiation through the use of color

Here is a quick glimpse at the changes we’ve made from beta to RC in keeping with what we heard from you. Each of the changes reflected in these screenshots is called out in detail within the remainder of this post.

Visual Studio 11 Beta

Visual Studio 11 RC

Increasing the Energy

For beta there has been a lot of feedback on the overall grayness of the experience. We heard your call for greater vitality in the user experience and have taken steps to both lighten and brighten the experience through the use of bolder theme accents and lighter background colors.

There are three main aspects of the design where we have increased the “energy” level of the Visual Studio 11 themes. The first is to lighten the grays used in the Visual Studio 11 light theme and window chrome to improve both the energy level and readability of the experience.

Visual Studio 11

Visual Studio 11

The second is to colorize the Status Bar. We are using the status bar color to add visual interest and functional value by communicating various IDE state changes such as when the IDE is in debug mode.

Visual Studio 11

Visual Studio 11

The third way in which we will be adding greater flavor to the themes in general is to make broader and slightly bolder use of our accent colors in areas like tool window headers and tab treatments.

Visual Studio 11

Visual Studio 11

Control Styling

The feedback relating to the fit of Metro style elements in the new experience has fallen into three main buckets. The use of all caps for tool window titling is an area where we’ve heard your concerns. In line with our overall design principles for the release we’ve made lightweight changes that give structure and emphasis to screen areas like tool window title bars, auto-hidden tabs, tab groups, and separators that doesn’t require uppercasing the titles. As is reflected in the screenshots below we’ve removed all caps for tool window titles, auto-hidden tabs, and tab group members.

Visual Studio 11

For RC the only UI area where we will be using All Caps titling is for top level menu titles.

Visual Studio 11

Another area of requested change relating to user interface controls/chrome has been for us to improve the overall sense of Metro styling within the themes by drawing our own window chrome. By drawing our own window chrome we have succeeded in both making more efficient use of space and in increasing the overall sense of Metro styling.

Visual Studio 11

The custom chrome and line work changes we’ve made together with reducing the number of default toolbars and toolbar icons combine to give you three extra visible lines of code in the editor compared to Visual Studio 10. As I noted at the beginning of the post the overall objective behind many of the Visual Studio 11 theme changes is to give you maximum real-estate for, and ability to focus on, your code.

Visual Studio 11

A final area highlighted within your feedback was the desire to see us theme scrollbars and other UI elements so that they have a stronger Metro style feel. We are continuing to look into these requests and will keep you posted if there will be any additional modifications or updates.

Addressing Icon Usability Concerns

From Visual Studio 11 Beta we heard a lot of concern about the removal of color from icons negatively affecting product usability, specifically where color icons helped quickly distinguish between similar items. We have addressed this concern by systematically adding color back to select commands, IntelliSense, and Solution hierarchy icons.

Post-beta we have employed a simple rule set that combines icon selection heuristics for common actions and content conventions with a basic five color palette. When taken in conjunction with the flatter and simpler glyph style shapes of our Visual Studio 11 icons these rules give us a recipe for applying color in a very straightforward and consistent manner.

The first area where we’ve systematically reintroduced color into the icons is to add color to common action types (e.g. create/new, add/remove, start/stop, search, move/direction/connect). This helps add greater distinction to common action icons and in turn helps to breakup or chunk menus and toolbars into smaller more scan-able subgroups.

Visual Studio 11

The second area where we’ve reintroduced color in icons is the Solution Explorer. Feedback from users, instrumentation data, and observational research all tell us that next to your content (i.e., the editor), the Solution Explorer is where you spend the most time. The desire for us to use color to differentiate icons within the Solution Explorer was a key point of emphasis within the beta feedback. We have reintroduced color selectively to be an aid that helps you quickly scan/differentiate one type of item from the next. We anticipate continuing to add and refine the use of color to this class of icons in Visual Studio 11.

Visual Studio 11 Solution Explorer

A third area where we have reintroduced color to icons is to promote familiarity and differentiation within IntelliSense. The Beta feedback pointed out that using IntelliSense icons to guide selection happens both with minimal reflection and very frequently. For RC we have reintroduced familiar IntelliSense color cues to aid you in quickly getting back to your current efficiency levels and beyond.

Visual Studio 11

In addition to the feedback regarding icon color we also received feedback that within the light theme the icons did not appear clear or crisp due to subtle outline that appeared around them. The outline exists to allow the same icon to work in the light, dark, or high contrast themes. Words like fuzzy were sometimes used to describe the fact that the outline around the icons and the light gray fill color within certain icons was visible within the light theme. This resulted in a lack of crispness and impacted icon discernibility. To address this we have adjusted the grays within the icons to eliminate any fuzziness or halo effect that existed within the Beta.

Visual Studio 11

In addition to the above mentioned changes we will continue to evaluate the most critical and commonly used icons that the community identifies as needing to be more discernible. We welcome your feedback on this area, so please send any comments our way.

Bringing it All Together

As noted above the changes we’re introducing post-beta are designed to both address core areas of Beta feedback and to maintain alignment with our primary design objectives for the release. While I’ve talked about these changes primarily within the context of the lighter theme we are verifying that all changes also work well with the dark theme.

Now, I’m hoping you are all enthusiastic in wanting to share your feedback on these changes and if you feel these updates are ultimately steps in the right direction. We are eager to get these changes into your hands with RC. When RC is available please download the release, keep the comments coming, and let us know what you think.

Monty HammontreeMonty Hammontree – Director of User Experience, Microsoft Developer Tools Division
Short Bio: Monty has been at Microsoft for ten years focusing primarily on developer tool experiences. He and his team provide product design and user research direction for the Visual Studio product family. He has 25 years of industry experience in product design and user research management.

Leave a Comment
  • Please add 3 and 8 and type the answer here:
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  • Please get rid of the all caps in the menus.

  • I would prefer you stopped playing with the look. It was fine as it was (in VS2010) and I don't want every application on my computer to have its own style. I like consistency. You are making changes now simply to justify charging us again.


    I wonder which is easier, creating something that you think everyone might like, or taking suggestions on what everyone wants?  

  • These changes are insignificant and in no way respect the totality of the negative user feedback regarding the unfortunate UI of the VS11 beta.

    ALL CAPS and no color are a retrograde step back to a time when monitors where monochrome and lowercase wasn't available.

    This is known as being "Retro". Retro is a fashion term, in other words these changes are nothing to do with usability and everything to do with fashion.

    Fashion has no place in workplace tools.

    Monty, please have the b**** to take a step back and really look at what you are doing here.

  • Who on earth thinks the ALL CAPS IN THE MENU BAR is good UX/UI design?  Please don't make this a half-assed set of fixes.

  • Great change, except the caps in the menu. We asked to remove the caps in the tool windows. You did, but someone decided that all menus should now be in caps, despite our aversions toward capitalized text.

  • RC looks much better. However, the CAPS MENU has to go. Seriously. And don't remove it from the menu and make something else CAPS. Please. No caps anywhere.

    And *more* colors, please. This is *much* better, but you can do better. It's hard to say where to add more color without actually using it (especially with the low resolution screenshots). But I'm sure you will hear from us after RC is available for download.

  • Much better IMHO!

  • All caps = SHOUTING!! I would put more color in the icons for the project type, but since I rarely use this it's not that important.

    In SE I would use a different shade of gray (silver) for Properties and References (these are less used so they don't need the same level of attention). Config files should be a bit more visible. There are still too many "gray" icons (properties, references, config, xml are all gray).

    On the toolbar, I would bring back the blue for the floppy disk (save) and on the top header I would use a slightly different shade between the draggable area and below (a very subtle shade).

    The whole border (status bar) changing colors depending on state = cool idea.

    Otherwise it looks much better! Hopefully you won't stop improving it...

  • And, for the record, I would much prefer if desktop apps would continue to look like desktop apps, not Metro. I don't like the Metro UI, but it's obvious you are not going to go back. Unfortunately.

  • Looks good in general, but lose the capitals in the menu bar and don't draw your own chrome. I can't believe people were asking for that.

    Seriously, all-caps is hostile and takes up more room. After the huge uproar about all-caps in the tool window titles, who decided it was a great idea to make the menus all-caps?

    Much better use of color though.

  • Thanks. Looks much better

  • 1. No more ALL CAPS.  It looks like my 5 year old is designing it.

    2. Use standard desktop elements instead of drawing your own.  It is a desktop app, right?

    3. Bring back the old comment / uncomment icons.


  • These are all nice improvements IMO. I don't even mind the all caps menu as that is a good match to the Zune UI (which I did vote for along with ~900 other votes in uservoice). Thanks for listening; this is definitely a step back from the brink.

    I like that the quick search box is in the caption -- that's a good use of the space IMO and a better location.

    I'll add another vote that the scrollbars get modified to match the theme as well since you said you're still considering it.

  • PLEASE DON'T MAKE THE MENU SHOUT. We know it's there. At least make it a configurable option if you really think it's a good idea.

    And are we getting the usable Find dialog back? I'm royally fed up of not being able to see what search options are selected without pulling up a flyout.

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