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Add some color to Visual Studio 2012

Usability studies have shown that both shape and color help to distinguis visual elements in a UI. The upcoming/current beta release of Visual Studio 2011 has removed color from the toolbars and from icons in e.g. the Solution Explorer.

Please make this optional so those of us that want a more accessible and user friendly IDE can have their cake and eat it too.

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Michiel shared this idea  ·   ·  Flag idea as inappropriate…  ·  Admin →

Updated Status: 7/2/2013

Thanks to everyone who voted and commented on this issue. Visual Studio 2013 has increased color and contrast use within the user interface while continuing to focus on giving the content you are creating and editing visual prominence. We’ve utilized the feedback you gave us to help refine our approach to color and contrast within three main areas: 1) we added color to icons and reduced line weights to improve icon scan-ability and to better communicate icon meaning and categorization; 2) we added line work and raised contrast levels to increase visual separation between screen regions; 3) we included a built-in “Blue” theme option at product first launch to better support user choice.

In keeping with these three areas we have made many changes to the Visual Studio 2013 built-in themes. In high utilization and icon intensive areas of the product, such as common toolbar actions and code hierarchy elements, we refined the color and/or line weight of over 1,000 commonly used icons resulting in color being applied to ~80% of standard and debug toolbar icons, ~75% of code hierarchy icons, and 100% of active notifications. In both the Light and Dark themes we increased contrast levels and introduced more border line work to better highlight the edges of content areas such as input fields, tool window borders, active selection states, etc. We also introduced the ability to choose the theme that best meets your preferences and work environment needs as a part of the product first launch experience.

Many of the changes we’ve made are subtle in nature but broad reaching in their application. As Visual Studio 2013 Preview has now shipped, we’re closing this item to give your votes back for you to use on emerging topics. We encourage you to try out the changes we’ve made and then share additional feedback you might have.

Visual Studio UX Team

Hi folks,

Take a look at the VS 2012 Color Theme Editor – it is an option for creating and editing your own Visual Studio themes.


Doug Turnure – Visual Studio PM


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  • Marco Casamento commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Well.. I'd say that this new interface is just like at the midday: you can't look at it.
    Seriously, will I be constrained to use THAT color schema in order to use VS 2011 ??
    You really hope that a (****) Mac style will bring developers to develop Mac like apps ?
    I'm lost...

  • Simon Dan commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Programmers always take time on the VS for long. Those gray and colourless UIs make those people feeling depressed and tired, which may lead the bad work of the programmers.

  • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    This isn't a case of "give it a chance" or "you'll get used to it". There's a need beyond the visual appeal, and that's function. Visual Studio is a productivity tool and not a work of art, and the productivity losses of this UI/UX are obvious. There's a reason that even the latest version of MS Office still uses a 3.5" floppy icon on both its Windows and its Mac versions - everyone knows that means save. C# files have been green, CSS red, JS yellow, and .VB blue for over a decade. Change for the sake of change is just churn, not an advancement. This isn't like going from tan to purple in the VS2008 to VS2010 update. That you get used to. SHOUT CASING and monochrome are not things you get used to - they're distracting and non-functional. Fire your UI/UX designers - all UI, and zero UX!

  • CB commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    It's proven again and again that it is much easier to recognize word patterns by using lower case text. For example, 'letter' is more easily recognized at a glance than 'LETTER' because of the taller 'l' and 't's, turning the word into an image of sorts, while the all caps variant is a square box.

    Also, I agree on the bad choice for using monochrome icons. Were they larger, the shape could feel distinctive enough to guide the eyes, but small icons really need some coloring since the shapes turns into small blobs rather than proper shapes.

  • enicholson commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Those "glyphs" all look disabled. While I'm not crazy about the gray theme, I can live with it. The icons on the other hand look unusable. Maybe if there was some dynamic detection of when the user wanted to focus on rich visual content everything could fade to gray. Then, when you mouse over a menu or switch back to your code, all the color returns to Pleasantville.

  • jason commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    I like the clean, colorless UI. It really makes the colors in the language syntax / screen designs pop. Kudos. However, the ALLCAPS titles take away from the experience (see other suggestion).

  • Hari commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Personally I prefer coloured toolbar and icons. That makes the development easy (ofcourse a handy tool always helps). I should be able to switch the background colours easily.

  • Martin Crimes commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    As a long term user of VS and Blend, I'm used to the lack of colours in my UI which Blend forced upon me, but I still really do not like it. The lack of quickly scannable icons and colour differentiation makes Blend a LOT ****** to use than it should be, whereas VS2010 has a nice balance of space and colour. This is not a step forwards, it just feels like another attempt ot hop on the Apple UI bandwagon of silver and monochrome everwhere, which simply isn't a productive experience in a complex application. Please take the opportunity between beta and RC to add some colour back into the UI and don't force the washed out bland scheme on us.

  • mrdev commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    1. All new monochrome icons are difficult to tell apart.
    2. ALL CAPS is jarring.

    The gray flat look is really ugly, but I could live with it. I can't stand the monochrome icons though.

    They took away icons from the tabs like "SOLUTIO..." (actual wording from screenshot), probably because they ran out of space on the tabs due to ALL CAPS. What professional UX designer would come up with an idea to use ALL CAPS to somehow tie in with metro? The displays are getting better but now let's make everything look flat and make VS less functional because MS wants to compete with iPads with poor screens? Give me a break, this is a terrible way to treat your PAYING customers. What other company builds products this way - screwing up one product to promote another product. I can't think of any other examples.

  • Simon Dan commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Those Metro like styles UIs are the most ugly UIs i ever seen since AFTER the Windows 3.2. They let me amost forget that i'm using a windows PC instead of the MS-DOS like :(. More, why i have to sign a non-kernal-mode application anyway? Did the microsoft have no confidence about the security mechanism of their new windows kernal?

  • Patrick commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    The fact that there are so many negative comments on this, across all Microsoft and private blogs, show that this is not a "vocal minority". If you like it, that's fine, but that would seem to put you in the minority ... have it as an option..

    I have to work with this product all day and this is a *very* big step backwards. Give us the option to keep a VS2010-style UI. Please don't force this drastic UI change on us.

  • efvincent commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    This is clearly one of those vocal minority issues. A great many, myself included, will welcome this change. Using the suggestions forum here to complain about a feature that hasn't even been released in beta yet and that no one has tried? Give the team a break; use it for three months first.

    Everyone should remember that VS is a product, Microsoft is compelled to take gambles on what might be a great new unexpected feature. They're compelled to attempt to be new, fresh, and dare I say innovative. They may not succeed. They may end up pulling back on this design direction in future versions of VS. But I for one consider the VS team part of the wider .NET community and will do them the courtesy of trying the UI in person before tearing it down.

    I use Visual Studio for 40-60 hours a week, 2100+ hours per year since it was called Visual InterDev and I co-wrote a book on the subject. I have a vested interest in its usability (and speed, hint hint). If it ends up that usability *really is* a problem in VS2011 b/c of the monochromatic / chromeless design, I'll be back to tell them about it.

  • Mike Reed commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    On the topic of color, it would be nice if they would at least minimize the use of dark gray text on light gray backgrounds - the lack of contrast makes it difficult to read.

    On the subject of focusing on the content, there is a point where that starts to make use of the application less efficient as well. When I'm looking for a control in the tool pallet, a file in the solution explorer, or a line in Intellitrace those panels become what I care about - not the currently open file. With no borders, differentiating colors, or any chrome to speak of they are much ****** to parse quickly to find what I'm looking for. Chrome serves a functional purpose; it's not just window dressing. Taking the stance that all chrome is bad would give any complex application poor usability.

  • thenonhacker commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    We are on the same page now with regards to color.

    I posted this:


    It includes screenshot makeovers (the latest versions are in the comments).

    Check it out! It's consistent with Office 15 coloring (glyphs, status bar, on a pure white background)

  • Nye commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Solution Explorer/Properties/etc windows distract you? Hide (or auto-hide) them.

    Toolbars distract you? Close them, use main menu.

    You can use FULL SCREEN mode too to better focus on your code.. Main menu is still there, extra windows are easily available (just hover mouse over "Solution Explorer", etc).

    BTW, I like new dark theme, but not its complete lack of colorful icons everywhere.. This was so uncalled for.

  • Dennis Smit commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    Too many colours never have been a problem in Visual Studio, we are not photo artist who can't use distraction from the image they are working on. We write code, and colours within the UI helped a great deal with finding / categorizing the functionality.

    But, what is most worrying is the fact that no one asked for this, I can't find a uservoice that asks the Visual Studio team for less colours or the removal of all colours. This shows a disconnect of the team working on the UI with its actual customers. Also first we get more colours (2010), and hardly two years later we remove all colours? Is there no direction, no long-term philosophy at all? Does this mean the UI team for 2010 was replaced because they were SO WRONG? Is this the same team but without a steady supply of hallucinogenics that they apparently needed to bring colours in an UI? So many questions, can someone blog about this?

    Of course we will get used to it when you release it like this. And we will use it since there is no real alternative for our WPF/ Silverlight / ASP.NET MVC work (besides not upgrading).

    The real question is again: Why should we get used to it? All the time and effort that went into making Visual Studio 2011 a gray blob could have been used for something like making it fast again?

    I admit fully that I am passionate about this, I use Visual Studio everyday as the tool to exercise my craft for my source of income (as so many others). I support Visual Studio as the (at least recently) unrivalled best IDE I can think of. But this just wants me to poke out my eyes with hot needles.

    On the bright side, I can see a complete ecosystem grow around giving Visual Studio colour and distinctions again!

  • Marc commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    The dark theme isn't too bad but the glyphs are terrible. Speaking as an icon designer I'd be embarrassed showing those to one of my customers.

  • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    People will always resist change. Please Microsoft, just focus on what really matters: that VS 11 is fast and bug free!

  • Anonymous commented  ·   ·  Flag as inappropriate

    @Robert: and since developers do not care? So many people against this change, kind of proves you wrong.

    By the way, are you saying that no designer was involved when they created VS2010? Really?

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