A major objective of synthetic biology is to make the process of designing genetically encoded biological systems more systematic, predictable, robust, scalable, and efficient. Examples of genetic systems in the field vary widely in terms of operating hosts, compositional approaches, and network complexity, ranging from simple genetic switches to search-and-destroy systems. While significant advances in DNA synthesis capabilities support the construction of pathway- and genome-scale programs, several design challenges currently restrict the scale of systems that can be reasonably designed and implemented. Thus, while synthetic biology offers much promise in developing systems to address challenges faced in the fields of manufacturing, environment and sustainability, and health and medicine, the realization of this potential is currently limited by the diversity of available parts and effective design frameworks. As researchers make progress in bridging this design gap, advances in the field hint at ever more diverse applications for biological systems.