I think you look at transistors from below, for the simple reason that if you looked from above, you wouldn't see any wires, because the body would be in the way, unlike ICs.
I also think that you would "get away with", to a certain extent, wiring in a transistor backwards, because after all it is still NPN, right? However the base-emitter junction has heavier doping so it would work sub-optimally. In other words, the part intended for the "heavy lifting" is on the wrong side.
A useful gadget to have is the Atlas DCA55 component tester. That has three wires: red/green/blue which you clip onto components like transistors and diodes in any order. It tests the component, says what it thinks it is, and identifies the leads for you. For example, on a PN2222 transistor I got:
NPN Silicon Transistor
Red: coll, Green: emit, Blue: base
Current gain: Hfe=196
Test current Ic=2.50mA
Test current Ib=4.62mA
Leakage current Ic=0.00mA
The DCA55 is not particularly cheap (around the $US100+ mark) but is handy for checking components, identifying leads etc.