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.

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  • Can we please, please, please, PLEASE have the option to turn back ALL CAPS on?

  • These changes are all great, except the ALL CAPS MENUBAR. Please... PLEASE... Get rid of the caps, or at least allow us to customize it in the options and use lowercase. A SHOUTING menu bar is not conducive to programming.

  • I thought April Fools had already passed. All caps on the main menu?  You can't be serious.


  • Great job! Very pleasing now.

  • No CAPS please. They are really ugly, and serve no purpose.

  • Good job! Looks fantastic!!!

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

    Why do you feel the need to use them All Caps at all?  It is common knowledge that All Caps is generally taken as shouting and is abrasive.  We are all trained to know where the menu is.  Putting the menu in All Caps is not going to help us find it any easier.  There is no reason to call it out.  We know it's there and we know how to find it.

    General rule of thumb: "If you think you need All Caps for something, you don't."

  • Just forget this ALLCAPS fetish you have, I mean is there any feedback you have that says "wow guys, I love the ALLCAPS stuff man".

    Everything else is great.

  • Does look good, except, the all caps menu bar is horrible.

  • Many thanks for adding the colors for different modes (Build, Debug, etc.). That will be very, very helpful and it's much appreciated!

    I'm not loving the new window frame but I guess I have VS maximized most of the time so neither of those two criticism are deal-breakers:

    1) It's going to look alien/inconsistent next to other windows. That was already a problem with undocked panels, especially as they lack a window shadow, which is just weird once you're used to all windows having one; can't tell if that problem affects the new main window, though. So, IMO, it's a shame to see the problem spread to the main UI rather than see the undocked panels get a standard border.

    (If I wanted Metro window borders, I'd want them for all windows, as a system-wide visual style. Consistency and respecting the user's visual settings is king.)

    2) I'm not a big fan of the search control in the titlebar, either. Having extra controls moved into the titlebar means you have to think about where to drag the window, after years of being able to drag almost the whole thing in most programs. It also makes life difficult when the window is thin. I don't know where this trend of seeing the titlebar as "wasted space that should have stuff moved into it" came from, but I wish it would stop. It's infecting more and more applications, often far worse than in this case (which isn't too bad, I admit).

    As I say, VS is maximized most of the time so it's not the end of the world.

    The all-caps menus are horrendous, as I'm sure many will say (and have already). Not sure what the idea was there. :) People hated the all-caps panel headings, and good on you for changing those, but it's almost comical that the menus are now all-caps instead.

    The icons are an improvement on the beta. Good job there. My first impression is that the original (VS2008/2010) icons were better, and that the "color is distracting" problem is imaginary or at least overstated. The new icons seem good enough, though (from a quick look, anyway), and may just take some getting used to.

    All in all, this is definitely an improvement on the beta, but I think there is still an underlying mistake of thinking that Metro's design ideas belongs in a complex, productivity UI which lives on the desktop next to Windows Aero applications. Metro is great for certain things, but not something like Visual Studio. And, as said in the past, it would be really nice if the Windows IDE actually respected the Windows user interface style guide and the user's color and visual style settings, where appropriate. :-S

    Thank you for listening and many thanks again for the mode colors (an example where overriding the standard status-bar color settings is useful, and people who disagree can configure all modes to use the standard colors anyway). Those colors will save me a lot of grief when I forget to detach the debugger and come back to VS later on. :-)

  • Please, please, PLEASE GET RID OF ALL CAPS! #seewhatididthere #andthere!

  • Overall, RC is an improvement.  RC icons are better than beta, but I still like the VS 2010 ones better, especially for Open and Save.  I already mentioned the goofy All Caps menu.


  • I think VS11 RC is a big improvement over VS11 Beta. Especially the icons are much improved. I like the subtle color touches in the icons.

    I don't know however if the All Caps in the menu bar are a good idea.

    But overall, I think VS11 will be a big improvement over VS10


  • This is a huge improvement and looks quite elegant now, but what's with the shouty menus?

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