The Windows Terminal icon among other app icons on the taskbar.

Creating a new Windows Terminal icon

Iconography can be hard. Let's talk about evolving the icon for the Windows Terminal.

May 17, 2019

I believe iconography is perhaps one of the most important factors when designing an app. Humans are mostly visual, and we identify the apps on our device home screens by looking at their icon–not their name.

The icon for what is currently the Command Prompt, hasn’t seen a redesign since 2007’s Windows Vista. Back then the idea of a Linux kernel in Windows would be laughed at, and PowerShell was only a few months old.

Clearly a lot has changed in these 12 years–and the new Windows Terminal app shows it with support for new color schemes, modern DirectWrite/DirectX-based text rendering, and support for multiple tabs.

There is still something that’s yet to change though, and that’s the icon. So I challenged myself to create something that was familiar and true to the past, while also reflecting the future.

Initial explorations

From the start, I wanted the new Terminal icon to follow a similar style to the new Office icons that have been showing up across devices and platforms over the past couple of months. With that in mind, I created a few early prototypes based on Fluent principles.

These two icons are very visually similar. They feature an offset “prompt”, visual representation of the tabs and a blurry set of text. In the first icon, you can also see an emoji–as emoji are now supported in Terminal.

I also decided to create versions with green terminal text, in homage to vintage terminal emulators.

It’s worth noting that all of these icons also have a glossy effect to them, in an effort to emulate the idea of Acrylic material without the background blur effect being present.

I also had other versions that used a centered prompt, or a different prompt format entirely.

That second part is interesting. As you may have noticed, there is no visual representation of C:\_ like there is in the current Command Prompt icon. I removed it because it’s an extremely Windows-like thing–and this new Terminal app supports both Windows and Linux shells. With that in mind, I switched to >_.

Finalizing the idea

The “final” icon design (I put final in quotes because design is never really done) combines features of all the previous iterations, but also delivers a more minimalist design. This was in response to a small amount of feedback that mentioned how the icon felt too busy.

This is the icon I produced. It still reflects the history of Command Prompt, while hinting at the future (see the tab bar at the top). There is a much flatter design, using smooth gradients like the Office app icons.

And so here is the evolution of the icon, from 1990 and the MS-DOS days, through 2007, and now into 2019. You can view this post on Dribbble.

Next steps

Windows Terminal is open-source on Github, and so I want to hopefully try and submit this new icon in an issue or pull request some time in the future. It would be cool to see it in the actual product.

What do you think of the icon? Let me know on Twitter. 😃


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