The correlation between cell shape elongation and the orientation of the division axis described by early cell biologists is still used as a paradigm in developmental studies. However, analysis of early embryo development and tissue morphogenesis has highlighted the role of the spatial distribution of cortical cues able to guide spindle orientation. In vitro studies of cell division have revealed similar mechanisms. Recent data support the possibility that the orientation of cell division in mammalian cells is dominated by cell adhesion and the associated traction forces developed in interphase. Cell shape is a manifestation of these adhesive and tensional patterns. These patterns control the spatial distribution of cortical signals and thereby guide spindle orientation and daughter cell positioning. From these data, cell division appears to be a continuous transformation ensuring the maintenance of tissue mechanical integrity.