VS2012 – Fifty Shades of Grey

There are lots of good and interesting things in Visual Studio 2012, but there are (as always) some negative points.

Grey Greyer Greyest

I still hate the new bland UI colour scheme. It’s like a minimalist architect got hold of the Victorian Gothic that was VS2010, and removed everything.

That is a personal, aesthetic viewpoint and some people must love it, but this new bland UI is actually bad from a practical, functional viewpoint.

Why Icons?

I’m ‘old school’ so I remember what apps were like before icons. WordPerfect and Lotus 123 had no GUI, so text was all you had. Finding commands among the sea of text was hard because (unless you learned their location through experience) you had to read each text entry to figure out what it was.

Icons were introduced to get rid of load of text and provide a shortcut: to make it faster to find the command you needed. People can see and filter a lot of pictures much faster than words. To quote Wikipedia (my emphasis):

The icon itself is a small picture or symbol serving as a quick, intuitive representation of a software tool, function or a data file accessible on the system

Why VS2012 Got It Wrong

In this respect the new icons work against you. Microsoft has reintroduced a little splash of colour in some, but it’s grudging and barely visible except up close.

Take this example, where we compare VS2010 and VS2012 toolbars:


Now the challenge: find the previous bookmark icon

VS2010: image

VS2012: image

How did you fare? Chances are that the VS2012 took longer because all the icons are very similar and the colour hint is so subtle as to be almost pointless.

The pale blue is dominant in the VS2010 icon so you can visually filter out most of the icons because they are obviously different. In VS2012 the dominant colour is black, as it is in most of the icons.

It would seem that now VS2012 favours form over function.

It Doesn’t Stop There

Okay so the icons are rubbish. What about the fifty-shades-of-grey scheme? Well if that’s what the design team like fine, but why just two options? Why not allow us to customise it?

The designers have tried to flatten out the interface and remove all the borders. I can almost hear the design meeting: “too much visual clutter!”

So they threw out the baby with the bathwater and removed all the boxes. So now the menu, the icons, the tabs and the toolbars all float together in design nirvana.

So, like a farm where all the hedges were removed, everything visually wanders about and the menu and icons and workspace all tend to blur together.

“I know!” pipes up a junior member in the design meeting, “what if we make all the menu commands in CAPS? Then it’ will be easier to make out!”

And so it came to pass.

Roll on, VS2014.


Thankfully I’m not alone, and there are now extensions to alleviate the worst of the VS2012 UI:

Visual Studio 2012 Color Theme Editor

and even

Visual Studio Icon Patcher

The colour editor seems to work fine. The icon patcher requires both 2010 and 2012 installed and is a a first beta, so you may not want to try that out.

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