Desmosomes are cell-cell junctions responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of tissues by resisting shear forces. Defects result in diseases of mechanically challenged tissues such as skin and heart. The architectural design represents the key to understanding the strength and durability inherent to desmosomes. A number of different proteins contribute to this architecture, and X-ray crystallography has made considerable progress in defining the atomic structure of various isolated domains. Electron tomography has been used to determine the three-dimensional structure of intact desmosomes in situ. By combining information from X-ray crystallography, cell and molecular biology and electron tomography, it should ultimately be possible to deduce the specific protein interactions that define the mechanical properties of this important adhesive junction.