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 4 and 3 and type the answer here:
  • Post
  • VSCommands in a must have extension. It lets you change the kiddy all caps UI back to normal.

  • TS Elliot once said "We shall never cease from striving, and the end of all our striving will be to arrive where we began, and to know the place for the first time."  

    I think it applies to the new VS interface...looks like VS 2005!  (Except for the caps, which you can toss please.)


  • So, what went wrong ?

  • Wow, does this suck! I thought icons and colors were used to make the interface inherently more understandable, but the entire design is about as bad as it gets. There is little or no contrast, the icons are unreadable, there is no differentiating different parts of the screen and all CAPS in the menu bars. Why? Why? Why?

  • here's an update.....the final release still sucks.  why do i even need a color monitor now?  adding a few pixels of color didn't help enough.  they went backward...way back.

  • Using VS 2012 for few weeks. still sucks. Now when I need to select a tool window I cannot use easy to identify color icons. Not even BW icons. They are gone. Macros - gone. Ability to sort code analysis results - gone. So many good features are gone. The tool bars are terrible. I waste lots of time trying to figure out what those crappy gray icons stand for. I am going back to VS 2010 for now.  Let me know when will VS 2012 is fixed.  Also, if you find this comment let me know, I’ll repost it an all upper case.


  • Using VS 2012 for few weeks. still sucks. Now when I need to select a tool window I cannot use easy to identify color icons. Not even BW icons. They are gone. Macros - gone. Ability to sort code analysis results - gone. So many good features are gone. The tool bars are terrible. I waste lots of time trying to figure out what those crappy gray icons stand for. I am going back to VS 2010 for now.  Let me know when will VS 2012 is fixed.  Also, if you find this comment let me know, I’ll repost it an all upper case.


  • II realy wanna kill the idiot who creates an IDE theme for 2012. My eyes are in a real pain after 30 mins of working.

    Going back to VS 2010....

  • totally crap, icons for folders, files in solution explorer horrible..

  • I don't know if these tools have been mentioned yet but if you want to change VS 2012 to make it look like VS 2010, help seems to have arrived! I just read Scott Hanselman's blog post where he mentioned two tools that allow you to change the color scheme and icons of Visual Studio 2012:

    1) To change the color scheme:

    Visual Studio 2012 Color Theme Editor

    2) To change the icons:

    Visual Studio Icon Patcher

    I haven't tried the Icon Patcher, the author mentioned that he's got an update coming soon so I'll wait for that.

  • BUNCH OF N00BS USING ALL CAPS. who wants more metro? is that a typo? metro the failed attempt to turn a pc operating system into a all in one useless tablet os. your tablet will fail and along with it you ruined windows. aero is 1000x better then the new UI and metro.

  • Still not useable. Painful. Drab. Dreary.

    If icons used in road signs changed to monochrome overnight there would be an outcry.

    There is a simple solution. Put in a option checkbox, set by default, to make it look like Vs 2005.

    Anyone who wants dreary and drab can un-check the checkbox.

  • VS 2012 UI sucks. Go back to drawing board and come up with something better or accept the rejection.

  • The beta looks 100 times better. If all of this ugliness doesn't get fixed soon, I am going back to VS2010.

  • Estoy desinstalando la version Visual Studio 2012 for web

    La razon es por el nuevo interface de usuario, es horrible, me deja ciego claro es bien funcional en cuestion de que hace el trabajo bien. pero parece que microsoft nos quiere dejar ciegos o con problemas de la vista con esos nuevos UI que ellos estan haciendo

    solo vi dos opciones para configurar el UI la dark y la light pero se ve demasiado pesado, se siente incomodo trabajar con el.

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