Very few people use Unity's default layout and that's ok! Unity makes it easy to set up custom layouts and save them to load later to fit our current workflow needs.
Here's the default layout.
It works, but within a few hours, you’ll realize your dragging and clicking all around. There’s also a ton of hidden windows that you may use in your workflow you’ll have to find room for.
So let’s just quickly cover how the editor’s panels even work.
Every panel in Unity3d is resizable by grabbing the edges, then they're draggable to move them to a new section called a "dockable" point. You can even stack the panels in the same panel to create tab groups.
When you are happy with the layout you can click
window> layouts> save layout and give it a custom name. It’s also where you can go back to the default.
You can even "pop out" panels into a new window if you’d like, so you can put your game screen or Debug console over on your second screen.
There's also a few different settings per panels, such as Project>one-column view and Project>two-column view
I have several different layouts when doing different work. For example, when doing a lot of scene building while decorating a 3D level I'm going to want a big focus on the Scene view and Project files so I can quickly piece it all together. While when coding I'm going to want my Unit tests, debug console, and game view more in focus.
My biggest advice is to keep Hierarchy, Project, Inspector near each other.
Keeping these 3 grouped is useful as you'll often want to drag/drop objects between them as that's a quick way to wire them up. Dragging "across" the screen adds up the seconds and this avoids accidentally droping an object into the level.
Here's a common view for me when I'm prototyping code before the camera is fully configured.
This view looks busy but it lets me quickly see the unit tests I run, the hierarchy/inspector is close to each other and make it easy to drag objects when needed, and while I can see what is on the game screen I can focus on the scene view to look at colliders which is more helpful for my purpose when prototyping. I also have a hotkey set up to swap Game mode to fullscreen if I need to.
This makes it quick and easy to see the in-game UI from afar as well to see if the base clarity is there or if I need to adjust something.
Portrait Mobile Game
While working on a phone mobile game I might work with more a vertical layout.
This one is pretty obvious, quickly lets me see how it'll look on the phone and have access to my common needs. One thing you will want to do with a mobile view is add a custom screen resolution. You need to adjust the “Screen size” to ensure everything renders correctly else it’ll be displaying it PC resolution size.
3D Level Design Layout
This layout is a bit special, as it uses a paid asset to enhance my productivity.
I use Peek, a $60 asset that often goes 50% on sale, what it does is when clicking an object it creates a special pop-up window right by your mouse with everything you need!
Peek can do many things but the pop-up inspector alone saves a few seconds every minute; the time savings really add up.
The most powerful part is being able to now work in fullscreen mode!
Working in fullscreen mode is perfect for doing level design or scene decoration in fullscreen mode as your then only focused on what the player will experience as you move around assembling the scene.
Working in full-screen mode is so useful I've even seen level designers that don't own Peek often swap to full-screen mode to check how a room looks, then swap back to their default view to do the settings with a hotkey.
Final Note - Custom Coded Panels and Hotkeys
In my professional opinion, the ease of customization is one of the core reasons to use Unity over any other game engine on the market.
And one of the most powerful parts of Unity's editor system is just how easy it can be to program a custom editor for your team's unique needs.
So if your a designer or artist, and you can't easily get to a setting you constantly need. Have a sitdown with your team’s developer. There may be a $10 or even free asset you just didn't know existed, or they can maybe even code a simple editor extension in minutes saving you a ton of time.
One of my favorite things to do as a developer is just creating custom hotkeys that can save minutes every day. The most basic one is just replacing the default “New Object” hotkey with a “New Object at Zero” so all new objects start at position 0,0,0 instead of having a random value you either have to remember to reset to 0 or causes floating bugs down the line.