Developing efficient and safe adjuvants for use in human vaccines remains both a challenge and a necessity. Past approaches have been largely empirical and generally used a single type of adjuvant, such as aluminium salts or emulsions. However, new vaccine targets often require the induction of well-defined cell-mediated responses in addition to antibodies, and thus new immunostimulants are required. Recent advances in basic immunology have elucidated how early innate immune signals can shape subsequent adaptive responses and this, coupled with improvements in biochemical techniques, has led to the design and development of more specific and focused adjuvants. In this Review, I discuss the research that has made it possible for vaccinologists to now be able to choose between a large panel of adjuvants, which potentially can act synergistically, and combine them in formulations that are specifically adapted to each target and to the relevant correlate(s) of protection.