The official source of product insight from the Visual Studio Engineering Team
As we’re closing in on the final designs for Visual Studio 11 I want to thank you again for your feedback. I want to pass along that we are still internalizing your feedback and actively working on the next Visual Studio 11 milestones.
The purpose of this post is to follow up on a common request relating to the earlier RC preview post. The request was for more information on the Visual Studio 11 dark theme.
Leading up to our being engineering complete for RC we focused most of our design attention on optimizing the light theme experience, because that’s what our telemetry indicates the majority of you are currently using. Once that was complete, we turned our attention to the dark theme, focusing on the top dark theme feedback we heard from Visual Studio 11 beta. Many of you will see significant improvements to the dark theme in the RC release, but several of the key changes I’m sharing with you now didn’t make the timeline for RC. In this post, I’d like to share what you will see in RTM and call out some of the dark theme improvements we’ve made from beta to RC and subsequently to RTM.
As a part of giving you a preview of the dark theme I want to call your attention to several important characteristics of the Visual Studio 11 iconography. The first is that the icons are generally much simpler or more symbolic in their form. Secondly the color palette we employ within the icons has been simplified and made much more consistent.
In Visual Studio 11, we generate our icons from a common library of glyphs. This approach improves consistency as we produce the approximately 6000 icons of various sizes and formats that are used in approximately 28,000 different locations throughout the product. This presents an interesting challenge in terms of how to most effectively host these icons in different themes, and on different shaded backgrounds (tool windows, editors, drop-downs).
We considered the pros and cons of outputting separate complete sets of swappable icons for each theme. As we looked into this approach we found it still didn’t allow us to optimize across the various backgrounds on which the icons would be hosted in each theme.
In Beta and RC we used a ghost outline around the icons to make them visible on both lighter and darker backgrounds. The disadvantage of this approach is that it makes the icons appear fuzzy on both themes and too bright in the dark theme.
In the RTM version, we dynamically adjust the icons according to the theme, resulting in icons that are cleaner and better matched to the theme and background color. At runtime, we modify the luminosity of the raster images to match the outline of the icon with the background on which it is drawn and to make the fill and accent colors stand out effectively. For the dark theme, this essentially inverts the brightness of the icon, making dark areas of the original icon light and light areas of the original icon dark. The same happens on the light theme, as icons are displayed on differently shaded backgrounds. The luminosity match makes the background and outline of icons disappear as it matches the surface color they are displayed on.
The difference between the traditional outline based approach we used for beta and RC, and the approach we employee for RTM, is readily apparent in the following screenshots.
In addition to being simpler in form, and being better suited to dynamic theming, glyph style icons also lend themselves to much cleaner resizing or scaling. All of our Visual Studio 11 icons are maintained in an icon repository as vector graphic files which we output in various file formats and sizes as needed within our products. For example the same glyph can easily be rendered in a size and format appropriate for use in different Visual Studio 11 contexts such as the Solution Explorer or the New Project Dialog.
As a part of the Visual Studio 11 overall release plan we will be making all of the icons for this release available to you in multiple file formats including vector. You are free to take full advantage of the easy theme-ability and resize-ability of these assets within your own applications.
One of the most common requests for dark theme enhancements has been for us to theme scrollbars. As I hinted at previously we were close to sharing with you in our last post that scrollbars will be custom themed within both the light and dark themes. We’ve since completed sufficient testing to feel confident in sharing our RTM designs with you.
Visual Studio's UI is a mix of WPF, Windows Forms, Win32, HTML, and other UI technologies which made scrollbar theming a challenging project. Because there is no single technology solution to theming all scrollbars in VS, we applied scrollbar theming on a technology-by-technology basis. We created a style targeting ScrollBar and ScrollViewer in the root of VS document and tool windows. In some cases, where it’s not appropriate to show a themed scroll bar, the UI can opt-out. An example is a pop-up dialog that will continue to show light even in the dark theme should not show dark scroll bars.
Individual pieces of UI can opt-out of themed scrollbars by setting a special property on the HWND. UI may decide to opt-out if it is not optimized for the dark theme or if it presents a very specific user content.
The themed scrollbars are designed to work together with the RC changes we shared with you previously, such as drawing our own custom window chrome, to improve the overall sense of coherent styling within Visual Studio 11. As I mentioned above we would like to hear more regarding your impressions of the cumulative updates we’ve shared with you.
Many of you have expressed a preference for coding within a dark editor. For example, dark editor themes dominate the list of all-time favorites at web sites such as http://studiostyl.es/ which serve as a repository for different Visual Studio styles.
Chief among the reasons many of you have expressed for preferring dark backgrounds is the reduced strain placed on the eyes when staring at the screen for many hours. Many developers state that light text on a dark background is easier to read over longer periods of time than dark text on a light background.
Downloading styles from web sites such as Studio Styles provides a great starting point to begin customizations. With that in mind, we themed every single customizable item and category in the Fonts and Colors list to be consistent with the overall dark theme design. This way, further customizations can be made and new features introduced in Visual Studio 11 will benefit from the defined default dark fonts and colors. We made several dark editor theme updates in RC in keeping with beta and early RC user feedback, including:
In RTM you’ll also find that we have themed a core set of the commonly used dialogs. The New Project, New Web Site, Add New Item, Extension Manager, and Reference Manager dialogs now have dark theme versions of their UI.
For those of you who choose to work within the dark theme you will undoubtedly want us to continue to push our theming efforts deeper and more broadly across Visual Studio. We too are eager to continue our work in this area through the remainder of this release cycle and beyond.
I’ve included a screenshot that helps bring into focus how the various dark theme updates such as the shell, editor, design surfaces, etc. all fit together. The screenshot below shows a dark themed Visual Studio 11 with the Windows 8 simulator running in the foreground.
As was the case with the changes we announced as part of the previous RC preview post the RTM changes reflected in this post are designed to both address core feedback areas and to maintain alignment with our primary design objectives for the release. I’m hoping you will take the time to share your feedback on these newly announced RTM changes.
Monty 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.
Looks awesome. The beta was impossible to use for me without color. This is really good looking. I don't mind the all caps in the menu personally, I have been using it a lot myself in my applications since Zune (desktop) was released.
this stuff is looking better every time - thanks Monty for taking the feedback and incorporating it. Also, there are definite improvements to the icons.
THE NEW CHANGES ARE LOOKING BETTER (YOU ADDED COLOUR BACK), BUT SOMETHING STILL SEEMS SLIGHTLY WRONG...
Remove all CAPS please.
If you don't listen, why ask for feedbacks?
Please do not remove the caps in the menu. I think that a bunch of people read some post somewhere over the last few years that caps were bad for readability, but that is just not always the case. Used in the right places it is acutally a good thing. Take a look around some day and you'll be amazed at how many things in life use all caps and we get along just fine and are able to read them. No one is complaining about street signs, license plates, movie marquees, book titles, etc. When used for one or two word phrases, it's just fine and is actually better.
@Jason, I agree whole-heartedly.
Regarding CAPS, I think it could look better if you used a different font, as they do in Zune. The CAPS text is a bit smaller and bolder than the rest of the text used on their UI. That way it doesn't end being too distractive.
About toolbar icons, have you improved compatibility with different DPI settings? For instance, when using a text size setting of 125%, the icons look completely blurry in Beta.
Besides that, I think the dark theme is very cool now, and I might even switch from the light theme I'm used to.
@Jason: All the examples you brought up are for things that want / require attention. This is precisely why all caps are used for signs, license plates, book titles, etc.; for you to notice them. In an IDE the menu does not require constant attention, the actual code does. If the menu constantly wants more attention than it needs then it IS distracting.
I'm not saying that after using it for N hours you maybe train yourself to not notice it. However, what would we as customers gain from it? Arguably MS does gain something - keeping some level of adherence to the Metro style, again debatable - we, on the other hand, get to have our attention constantly drawn away from the code...
Guess what else was also a common request? Bringing back the VS 2010 theme--you know, the one that didn't suck. Also, up there on the list was including desktop app support in express edition and XP support with the VS11 compiler. Those seem a lot more important to me than some dark theme no one will ever use.
GREAT! AN INTERN FIGURED IT WOULD BE COOL TO TRY ALL CAPS IN THE MENU BAR. HE COULDN'T FIND IT IN ANY OF MICROSOFT'S DESIGN GUIDELINE DOCUMENTS FOR DESKTOP APPLICATIONS, BUT WHATEVER. BASED ON THE PREVIOUS BLOG POST THE USERS SEEMED TO LOVE IT! LETS KEEP IT!
Just take my money and release RTM tonight please.
+1 I like the new dark theme.
I like them, so I guess we'll have to disagree. I'm not really sure how it is distracting, except that people have bought into the idea that caps are somehow bad. In my opinion the caps and font of the RC menu items have the weight that they deserve. I really don't see how FILE is really any worse than File, i just don't. You are probably correct in that it is most likely an attempt at keeping in line with Metro and a similar theme across microsoft apps though, so i wouldn't hold your breath in it getting changed.
This is getting better! I like the changes. As you are making changes to appearance by enhancing the color layout and complementing icons. Out of curiosity, how do you test the changes?
Geeez, enough with the all caps rage. They heard you load and clear the first 1000 times.
Wait for RC and see if it really is _that bad_. All in all the screenshots look great, try to see the whole picture, how often do you actually look (stare?) at the menus to feel so mad about them.
Great work VS Team!