Visual Studio 2022 Brand Updates

March 2019 – October 2019
Visual Design | Art Direction
Microsoft | Developer Division

Project overview

The DevDiv design team creates a new look and feel for every major release of Visual Studio. This work includes new product icons, splash screens, color palettes, illustrations, and potentially new themes in the product. The splash screens, color palettes, and product icons were developed on a tight timeline between March 2020 and April 2020 while the illustrations and themes were developed over a longer timeline.

My contribution

For this project I worked as Art Director and partnered with our Creative Director (Emily Stoll) icon designer (David Hose), illustrator (Don Baker), Product Designer (David Culbertson), and Design Technologist (Cherry Wang).

Setting the scene

What is Visual Studio?

Visual Studio is an IDE (integrated development environment) for Windows developers and is popular for .NET and C++ development.

How often are major releases?

Visual Studio ships a major release about every two years.

What is Dev17?

Dev17 is the internal name for Visual Studio 2022 product.

PHASE 01

Background

Visual Studio is a huge product, originally released in 1997. At some point it was decided that instead of making future releases of Visual Studio backwards compatible, each individual release could run side-by-side, meaning customers could have many versions of the product installed and running on their machine at any given time. This decision introduced a unique need to create new product icons and splash screens that are clearly distinct from previous versions for every major release.

Previous Visual Studio product iconography

Previous Visual Studio splash screens

In addition to updating branded assets for Visual Studio, we also create new product icons for Visual Studio for Mac and new product icons and splash screens for Blend.

Inspiration

Dev17 included a lot of technical improvements that drastically improved product performance and we wanted the new branded assets (product icons, splash screens, etc). We were also heavily inspired by the newer Microsoft product icon style seen below.

A selection of Microsoft product icons

The “Ah Ha!” moment

We determined we could evolve the ribbon icon and bring it inline with the newest icon style across Microsoft. I also decided to use the overlapping form and curves to influence or splash screens and illustrations.

PHASE 02

Design explorations

Our Icon designer, David Hose, got set on exploring different ways of ways of redesigning Visual Studio’s ribbon. After multiple rounds of internal design reviews and partner reviews, we determined our new proposed icons.

iconography evolution

In parallel to the iconography work, we were also working on our new illustration style. Our illustrator, Don Baker, and I worked together to define our new style. We began by creating greyscale spot illustrations.

Early illustration explorations

Once we were happy with the spot illustrations we began expanding them to more editorial applications like landing pages, banners, etc.

And then we began exploring color. Around this time we determined we could extend the style to all the products in the product family (which is also named Visual Studio), and set color palettes for each of the products and another palette to represent the family as a whole.

Color explorations for Visual Studio

Color explorations for Visual Studio for Mac

Color explorations for Visual Studio Code

At this time I switched to focus on creating the splash screens. I took the style Don and I were developing and began thinking through how I could take the basic forms in the product icon and extend them to the splash screen itself. I created some quick sketches in Procreate to quickly check composition and share ideas with the wider team.

From there we narrowed it down to two directions and I began exploring higher fidelity versions.

Composition explorations

Color explorations

After all of our explorations we landed on final designs for Visual Studio and took what we learned there to quickly create splash screens for Blend.

Preview and GA version of Visual Studio and Blend splash screens
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PHASE 03

Testing & Validation

For testing we took multiple icon designs into quick pulse testing with our research team. We met with customers and walked them through multiple scenarios where they needed to identify Visual Studio icons. During this process we looked to see if they could tell the different between the current and previous icons as well as if they could distinguish the new proposed icons in the mix. During testing we discovered that customer expected to see the color purple and when the colors were too dark it was difficult for customers to identify the icon. Explorations that took up more of the canvas and were more of a “blob” than a distinct ribbon also presented challenges for customers. We learned most of the customers didn’t actually know which icon representing which release, but they knew which one they used most frequently.

PHASE 04

Seeing it in the real world

When Preview 1 launched Spring of 2019 it was so exciting to see our designs out in the world. Not only did our work appear in product but it also began to appear in blog posts, twitter threads, and YouTube videos.

What I learned from this project

It is possible to make something great on a tight timeline.

Even though the timeline for this project wasn’t ideal we were able to pull together and create beautiful and identifiable designs.

Organization is key when working quickly.

Previous brand updates for major release were fairly unorganized. When I joined this effort as Art Director I felt a major part of my role was keeping the team organized, in sync, and moving forward. Without organization, we would not have been successful.

User testing is important, even for visual design

While I already believed user testing to be important, I found that it was extremely important for this project because the iconography is what identifies the product and if customers don’t recognize it or have trouble seeing it then we haven’t done our job.