Clean vs. Cluttered GUI
A request I’ve gotten from quite a few new users is to have some indicator axes in the Scene View showing you what is up and what is down. There is a reason why they are not there, and it ties into the core of my Job here at UT: GUI design. I’ve wanted to comment a bit on this.
Unity has a very minimalist GUI; this stems from the basic premice that GUI you don’t interact with is an actual loss to your productivity – every GUI element that you do not use is one you look at many hundred times a day when working with Unity, and hence something you need to discard from using many hundred times a day. After a while you get pretty good at ignoring a piece of user interface, but when it adds up, you end up with a cluttered mess. Take a look at many 3D apps to see just how bad this can get.
On to what I actually wanted to talk about – the world space indicator arrows, and why they are not there.
At its heart, Unity is not a modelling app – it is an app where you bring together pieces of art from other apps. This means that usually telling which way is up is not a problem:
Geez, I wonder which way is up?
While this can be quite hard to see in a 3D-modelling app (where you might be constructing your mesh by connecting raw verts), by the time you put things into Unity, this is not so big a deal.
What about when you’re just starting out? In this case, I can see we have an issue – I cannot tell how I’m looking at a box. However, adding an RGB axis thingy to show the directions to every scene view seemed to be way overkill; it would add on-screen clutter for the people who have huge, complex scenes to manage – in order to solve a slight confusion when you’re starting out a new scene. I thought we could use more subtlety;
In real life, we don’t have the problem of telling up from down. Apart from the fact that we can usually assume that our feet should be pointing downwards, there are other cues – mainly a horizon line and lighting.
Light tends to come from above. How about adding a soft top-down light to Unity’s default light setup? This could be a hint of a global up we might just pick up without thinking about it?
I’m also considering always having a very simple skybox in the sceneview – basically something that would tint the upper half of the background a bit lighter than the lower one.
There is, however, another solution; Sometimes, other people just make some excellent work: In one of the later Maya versions, they added the ability to click the indicator arrows to orient your viewport to a direction:
They even animated the viewport turning to make sure you didn’t get confused while changing views. I noticed that even experienced Maya users picked up this concept immediately – and apparently didn’t mind the animations. Now, those axis arrows are no longer mere decoration, they are actually used to perform a function we do very often – and giving them this functionality means we can remove the (seldomly used and much more cumbersome to use) direction drop-down.
This is one of the things I plan to be playing with when I do my huge Scene View cleanup.