Home » Windows Desktop Icons.

Windows Desktop Icons.

Windows desktop icons are the small images that litter your Desktop screen. They represent various items, such as files, folders and shortcuts to programs and apps. They’re very useful but can become unmanageable over time.

Windows Desktop Icons

In the real world, if you were sitting at a desk, you’d have the things that you use most often on top of the desk.

The Windows Desktop works exactly the same, the icons should generally be either the most used items, or maybe the most important items.

Easy to get at and easy to use.

However over time, as more and more icons are added, they can become confusing and difficult to use.

Selection of Desktop Icons indicated.
Desktop Icons

Advertisements

Organising Your Desktop Icons.

Having too many Desktop icons can be counter-productive, but there are many ways in which to organise your icons so that they work best for you.

In both Windows 10 & Windows 11, if you right-click once on your Desktop the options menu will open. The first two entries on the options menu, VIEW and SORT BY, concern your icons.

View and Sort by options indicated in Windows 10.
Windows 10 options menu.
View and Sort by indicated on Windows 11 options menu.
Windows 11 options menu.

View Menu.

Hovering your pointer over VIEW will open a second menu (or submenu). At the top of the submenu, you can choose the size of your icons, LARGE, MEDIUM or SMALL. You’ll see a dot beside the currently selected size. To select a different size, simply left-click on the one you want. If you don’t like the result, you can always open the menu again and select a different size.

Note that there isn’t a “correct” size for Desktop Icons, it’s just whatever works best for you on your computer screen.

Icon size options indicated.
Windows 10 icon size options. Medium is selected.
Desktop icon size options indicated.
Windows 11 icon size options. Medium is selected.

Auto Arrange Icons.

The next setting is AUTO ARRANGE ICONS. When Auto Arrange Icons is selected all the icons will line up in neat columns on the left of the screen. However, it doesn’t put them into any sort of order, the icons just line up randomly into columns. Which doesn’t really help that much, since you still end up searching for the icon you want/need.

Auto Arrange Icons works best when combined with one of the options from the Sort By menu, which we’ll get to a little later.

When Auto Arrange Icons is turned on (selected), you’ll see a small tick appear next to it. If you don’t see a tick, then it’s turned off (deselected).

Auto arrabge icons is turned on (selected)
Auto Arranged icons selected in Windows 10.
Auto arrange icons is shown as being selected.
Auto Arranged icons selected in Windows 11.

Show Desktop Icons.

The final setting of note is Show Desktop Icons. In my view, this setting should always be selected (have a tick beside it). If it’s turned off (deselected) then all your icons will suddenly disappear. You’ll have a blank Desktop.

Windows 10 desktop devoid of any icons.
Show Desktop icons is turned off (deselected) in Windows 10.
Windows 11 desktop devoid of any icons.
Show Desktop icons is turned off (deselected) in Windows 11.

If Your Desktop Icons Suddenly Disappear.

The Show Desktop Icons setting can all too easily be deselected by accident. So if you’re icons suddenly “disappear”, then this is the most likely cause. To get them back, right-click on your Desktop, move your pointer onto VIEW, then left-click SHOW DESKTOP ICONS.


The Sort By Menu.

Below the View menu, you’ll see the SORT BY menu. Hover your pointer over Sort By to open the menu. Your choices are to sort (or put in order of) Name, Size, Item Type or Date Modified.

The Sort By options are highlighted on a Windows 10 Desktop
Windows 10 Sort By menu. You can arrange icons by Name, Size, Item Type and Date Modified.
Sort By menu options are indicated.
Windows 11 Sort By menu. You can arrange icons by Name, Size, Item Type and Date Modified.

You can use any of the Sort By menu options as a one time option. By that I mean it’s not permanent. For example, if you chose to Sort your Desktop icons by Name, then they would all line up alphabetically. But just this once. Over time (as more icons are added), they would become disorganised again.

To have your icons automatically arranged by Name all the time, you’ll need to combine the Sort By command with the Auto Arrange Icons option.

In effect, you’re telling the computer to Auto Arrange Icons by either Name, Size, Item Type or Date Modified. From this point on, any new icons that are added to your Desktop will automatically be arranged by whatever method you chose.


Auto Arrange Icons And Sort By.

To set it up in both Windows 10 and 11, first right-click once on your Desktop, then hover your mouse pointer over View.

On the View menu, check to see if Auto Arrange icons is selected (turned on), if it isn’t, select it by left-clicking it.

Next, right-click the Desktop again, but this time, hover over SORT BY, then left-click your choice of either Name, Size, Item Type or Date Modified

Auto arrange icons and Sort by Name are both selected.
Auto arranging icons by name in Windows 11.

Advertisements

Drag And Drop Your Desktop Icons.

Having your computer automatically sort your Desktop icons into some kind of order is really quick and easy, but it won’t suit everyone. I much prefer to group related icons together.

For example, I’ll keep all the files, folders and shortcuts related to this website grouped together in one part one the Desktop.

Banking, bills, receipts and other financial stuff in another area.

Setting my Desktop icons up like this helps me because I know what area of the screen to look at for what I’m after, rather than having to scan over every icon.

Desktop icons arranged in related groups
Keeping icons together can help you to find what you’re looking for more easily.

To set your Desktop up like this the process is exactly the same in both Windows 10 and Windows 11.

The first thing to do is to ensure that Auto Arrange Icons is turned off (or deselected).

Right-click on your Desktop and hover your pointer over View.

If there isn’t a tick beside Auto Arrange Icons, then it’s turned off (deselected) and your good to go. Simply left-click once on your Desktop to close the menus.

If there is a tick beside it, then it’s turned on (selected). To deselect it, left-click once on it.

Deselecting Auto arrange icons from Desktop options menu in Windows 11.
Deselect Auto Arrange Icons first.

To move an icon, put your mouse pointer directly on top of it and then hold down the left-hand mouse button.

With the mouse button held down, move your mouse across the screen and you’ll see that the icon moves with you (DRAG).

When it’s in the right place, release the mouse button (DROP) and the icon will stay where you’ve put it.

Keep going until you’ve arranged all the icons on your Desktop the way you want them.

A folder icon is being dragged across the desktop to a new location.
Drag and drop your icons.

Desktop Shortcut Icons.

Desktop shortcuts are links to files, folders or programs that you’ve got stored or installed on your computer. They aren’t the actual file, folder or program, just links to them. This means that you can safely delete any shortcuts that you don’t use or need without the risk of deleting something that you might want later on.

You can recognise shortcuts by the small arrow that appears in the bottom left corner of the icon.

Only shortcuts have this arrow. Any real files, folders or programs on your Desktop won’t have it.

The arrow indicating the item is a shortcut is circled on three different icons.
A file, program and folder shortcut.

Program Shortcuts.

Whenever you install a new program or app onto your computer, they’ll nearly always create a Desktop shortcut, whether you want one or not. Some programs do give you the choice during the installation process, but most just go ahead and create one.


Deleting Shortcuts.

It makes sense to delete any shortcuts that you don’t use or don’t want on your Desktop. As I said earlier, you’re not removing anything from your computer, just de-cluttering your Desktop. The files, folders or programs that the shortcuts refer to will still be on your computer. You can easily delete any shortcuts that you don’t want or need.

Delete option is highlighted.
In Windows 10, right click on the shortcut you want to delete, then left click DELETE.
Trashcan icon highlighted on Windows 11 options menu.
In Windows 11 it’s almost the same, right-click once on the shortcut, then on the menu, left-click the TRASHCAN icon.

Creating Shortcuts.

Whilst having unused, unnecessary shortcuts on your Desktop just creates clutter and confusion, there are times when you’ll want to add your own. You can create a shortcut to just about any file, folder or program that you want.


Creating A Program/App Desktop Shortcut.

The easiest way to create a shortcut icon on your Desktop to a program or app is to simply drag it from the Start Menu and drop it onto the Desktop.

Left-click once on the Start button, scroll through the list of installed programs/apps until you find the one you want to create a shortcut for, hover your pointer over it, then hold down the left mouse button and drag the program/app onto your Desktop. Release the mouse button and the shortcut will be created.

Program being dragged from Windows 10 Start menu onto Desktop.
Creating a program shortcut in Windows 10.
Dragging a program from Windows 11 program list onto desktop.
Creating a program shortcut in Windows 11.

Creating A File Or Folder Shortcut.

Creating shortcuts on your Desktop for either individual files or folders is exactly the same. However, it is a little different depending on whether you’re using Windows 10 or Windows 11.


Create A Folder Shortcut In Windows 10.

Create Shortcut option is marked.
In Windows 10, right-click once on the folder and then left-click CREATE SHORTCUT.
Folder shortcut being dragged and dropped onto Desktop.
Find the shortcut, then drag it onto your Desktop.

Advertisements

Create A Folder Shortcut In Windows 11.

Show more options is indicated on menu.
In Windows 11, right-click once on the folder and then left-click SHOW MORE OPTIONS.
Create shortcut option highlighted.
When the More Options Menu appears, left-click CREATE SHORTCUT.

Now find the shortcut that you just created and drag it out onto your Desktop.

Note that the shortcut will be the icon with the small arrow in the bottom left-hand corner.

Dragging a folder shortcut onto desktop. The arrow indicating the item is a shortcut is circled.
Dragging a folder shortcut onto your Desktop in Windows 11.

Summary.

Tidy up your Windows Desktop icons, especially if you’ve got a lot of them. Not being able to find the file, folder or shortcut that you want quickly just leads to frustration and headaches. Regardless of whether you Auto Arrange and Sort By or you do it manually by dragging and dropping, believe me, it does help your workflow having an organised Desktop.

You can create and then delete shortcuts quickly and easily so use them. If you’re working on a project, then create a shortcut to the file or folder so that you can jump straight to it, rather than having to dig through various folders to find it. You can then delete the shortcut after the project is finished.

The Windows 10 & Windows 11 Start menus. Text reads "The Windows Start menu".
Next Page

The Start Menu

How to set up and organise your Start menu to suit how you use your computer.
Make life easier.

The Windows 10 & Windows 11 Start menus. Text reads "The Windows Start menu".
Next Page

The Start Menu

How to set up and organise your Start menu to suit how you use your computer.
Make life easier.

Scroll to Top