How To Add Desktop Icons in Windows 11

The newest update of Microsoft’s Windows operating system brings with it a whole new aesthetic that was designed to streamline the user experience. Some people migrating from older versions of Windows, however, miss classic features like having older desktop icons available. Fortunately, there are simple ways to restore these themes to their previous versions.

How To Add Desktop Icons in Windows 11

In this article, we’ll show you how to add desktop icons on Windows 11, along with other methods to restore classic Windows themes.

The Newest Windows OS

On October 5, 2021, Windows 11 was released to the general public. It was soon rolled out as a free upgrade to owners of Windows 10 systems, and many took advantage of this opportunity. The problem was that many features of the previous version were removed.

Because Windows 11 was designed to have a streamlined aesthetic, desktop themes are rather minimalistic. Many of the desktop icons that users have come to know and love have been disabled by default. However, with a little tinkering, the classic desktop themes can be easily restored.

Restore Desktop Icons on Windows 11

By default, the only icon on your desktop after a fresh install of Windows 11 will be the recycle bin. To bring back desktop icons that are hidden or disabled, you can try the following:

Make Hidden Icons Visible

If you’ve already set some icons onto the desktop but can’t seem to see them, then maybe your icon view settings are set to invisible. To fix this, do the following:

  1. Find an empty space on your desktop and right-click to show the popup menu.
  2. Hover over View.
  3. Click on Show desktop icons to toggle visibility. If you wish to hide icons on your desktop, just toggle Show desktop icons again.

Add Icons via the Taskbar

If you’ve yet to place any icons on your desktop, this can be done through the taskbar by following these steps:

  1. On the taskbar, click on Search. This will be represented by a magnifying glass icon.
  2. In the search text box, type in the program or folder that you wish to add to your desktop.
  3. Click Open after selecting the program or folder.
  4. Drag and drop the program or folder icon from the explorer window onto the desktop.
  5. Alternatively, you can select the icon and press Ctrl + C, then head to your desktop and press Ctrl + V.

Add Icons via the Start Menu

Icons can also be added to the desktop by using the Start menu. This is handy as the start menu has a lot of commonly used programs, and placing them on the desktop reduces the number of clicks to open them. The steps to add desktop icons via the start menu are as follows:

  1. Press the Windows key on your keyboard or click on the Windows icon on the taskbar.
  2. In the search text box, type the application or folder you want to add and hit Open.
  3. Right-click on the application or folder.
  4. From the popup menu, choose Show more options.
  5. Hover over Send to.
  6. From the popup menu, choose Desktop (create shortcut).
  7. A shortcut icon should appear on your desktop.

Adjust the Taskbar to Classic Windows

Windows 11 places the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, with all icons center-aligned by default. This follows the minimalistic theme of the new operating system. However, you can change the alignment of the taskbar with a few simple steps. These are:

  1. Right-click on an empty space on the taskbar to open the taskbar settings menu.
  2. Click Taskbar settings.
  3. Scroll down and find the Taskbar behaviors tab. Click on it to open the sub-menus.
  4. Click on the dropdown menu beside Taskbar alignment.
  5. Choose Left.
  6. Your taskbar and all of its icons should now be left-aligned, just like the previous OS versions.

Classic Windows Themes

If you’re missing the old icons for the computer, control panel, and other classic desktop applications, they can be restored by doing the following:

  1. On the taskbar, click on the Windows icon, or press the Windows button on your keyboard.
  2. Click on Settings. This would be the gear icon.
  3. On the left menu, click on Personalization.
  4. On the right menu, click on Themes.
  5. Under related settings, click on Desktop icon settings.
  6. There will be a popup window that will show the currently visible desktop icons. These available icons are Computer, User’s Files, Network, Control Panel, and Recycle Bin.
  7. Click each icon to enable or disable their visibility settings.
  8. If you wish to change individual icons, click on the one you wish to change in the box, then click on Change Icon. You can choose from a list of available icons or navigate to a folder with custom icons.
  9. When you find an icon you want, click on OK.

  10. Once done, click on Apply.

Restore the Previous Desktop Context Menu

You may notice when right-clicking on the desktop that some of the more useful commands that were available in Windows 10 are hidden on Windows 11. This can be rather annoying as it adds another layer of complexity to commonly used features previously available.

Fortunately, this can be fixed by editing the Windows Registry. A quick note, though, placing incorrect values in the registry may cause features to stop working, so follow these steps with caution:

  1. Click on the Windows icon on the taskbar or press the Windows key on your keyboard.
  2. Type in Regedit. Press the enter key to launch the Registry Editor.
  3. On the left menu, find HKEY_CURRENT_USER. Click on it to put the folder in focus.
  4. On the right window, right-click and hover over New.
  5. Choose Key.
  6. Name this key {86ca1aa0-34aa-4e8b-a509-50c905bae2a2}.
  7. Click on the new key you just created to highlight it.
  8. On the right window, right-click and hover over New. Choose Key again.
  9. Name this key InprocServer32 without quotation marks.
  10. Double-click on Default on the right window. Press the enter key without typing anything to set the values to blank.
  11. Restart your computer.
  12. Right-clicking on the desktop should now show the classic context menu.

Add Frequently Used Apps To The Start Menu

In Windows 10, the Productivity and Explore tabs on the Start menu allowed users to access programs faster. You can still do this on Windows 11 by pinning programs onto the Start menu. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the Windows icon on your taskbar or press the Windows key on your keyboard.
  2. Click on Settings.
  3. On the left menu, choose Personalization.
  4. On the right, click on Start.
  5. Click on Folders.
  6. Toggle your desired programs and features on or off on the right menu.

Restoring Functionality

With the release of Microsoft’s latest iteration of their popular operating system, a lot of classic features have changed significantly. Knowing how to add desktop icons on Windows 11 allows you to restore former functionality to this newer platform.

Do you know of other ways that you can add desktop icons to Windows 11? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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