Systems biology seeks not only to discover the machinery of life but to understand how such machinery is used for control, i.e., for regulation that achieves or maintains a desired, useful end. This sort of goal-directed, engineering-centered approach also has deep historical roots in developmental biology. Not surprisingly, developmental biology is currently enjoying an influx of ideas and methods from systems biology. This Review highlights current efforts to elucidate design principles underlying the engineering objectives of robustness, precision, and scaling as they relate to the developmental control of growth and pattern formation. Examples from vertebrate and invertebrate development are used to illustrate general lessons, including the value of integral feedback in achieving set-point control; the usefulness of self-organizing behavior; the importance of recognizing and appropriately handling noise; and the absence of "free lunch." By illuminating such principles, systems biology is helping to create a functional framework within which to make sense of the mechanistic complexity of organismal development.