If you are adjusting the Painting Margins as you say Top Margin don't do this to try and adjust the text wither on the Left hand side or right side. Once you have your SM painting settings lined up so it looks good that is all there is to it and leave it alone.
To adjust the text only do this. On the left had side Program list and Right hand side Places list go to the text settings and adjust any of those numbers you need to so the text will line up the way you want it to. Don't forget every time you change a number to apply and save to see the changes.
The last image you are showing on the right hand side shows where the author added that to the start menu for the user pic to sit there. Hiding the user pic will show it to look like that. That part is part of the image and any adjusting won't remove it.
The Diamond WB works just fine. No need to adjust any of the Margins if using that as a template.
I think you misunderstood. I wasn't trying to align text with the top section margins.
The problem is if you have a top section that is too narrow (too small height-wise). If this is over 35+ pixels in height, you're free to change the top margin for the text on the places list to 0 instead of the default 30.
From what I can tell, the space for the user icon seems to be hard coded. If the top section of the menu is too narrow (short), the user icon is automatically adjusted to take up space in the right side/places list. So even if the icon is hidden in the extra settings, the OS still thinks it's there, and makes any text/links that are moved upwards with the text margin on the places list become "obscured" by the icon... which isn't meant to be there.
Of course, I don't know exactly how it works... but that's my best guess. Every skin I've seen that has the user icon hidden, either the places list text still has a margin on the top, pushing it down out of the way of the reserved space for the icon, or they have large top sections on the start menu, which seems to force that pic out of the way of the places list.
As an example, I'll use your Gazebo skin (I hope you don't mind... I know some people can take offense to someone editing their work in any way, and that's not my intention... I'm just trying to illustrate my discovery. )
Your skin, which I'm sure you're very familiar with, has the places list and programs list relatively level. They appear the same height... and they work correctly. However, the top part of the start menu is also 90 pixels high. If we change that top part so that it is no longer 90 pixels high, but instead 10 pixels... the problem returns.
On the subject of the Corporate skin screenshot... it shouldn't matter that there is a space for the user icon. That's part of the background image for the places list. The reason why it happens when hiding the icon and changing the text margin to bring the text up is because the height of the top part of that skin is only like 8 pixels high. If the top section were larger... (35+ pixels), it wouldn't be the problem. The text and mouseover image would work correctly on that skin... it would look a little odd because of that part of the background, but it would still work.
I will say, I'm generally a perfectionist. It's the bane of my existence. I've always wanted to complete a blind, but I usually run into a speed bump and give up part way through because something doesn't work exactly as I want it to. I usually don't like programs or anything else, really, to arbitrarily dictate what I'm able to do.
That being said, I'm trying to overcome that whole personality flaw. I see a lot of skins a lot of great skinners here, and they inspire me.
The search results background color is set by the color set by the Folders bar image in Theme part details, Command bars in SKS. You also need to set the background color in the Extra settings areaof the Folders bar to be the same as the image color for things to look right.