Future nanoscale soft matter design will be guided to a large extent by the teachings of amphiphile (lipid or surfactant) self-assembly. Ordered nanostructured lyotropic liquid crystalline mesophases may form in select mixtures of amphiphile and solvent. To reproducibly engineer the low energy amphiphile self-assembly of materials for the future, we must first learn the design principles. In this critical review we discuss the evolution of these design rules and in particular discuss recent key findings regarding (i) what drives amphiphile self-assembly, (ii) what governs the self-assembly structures that are formed, and (iii) how can amphiphile self-assembly materials be used to enhance product formulations, including drug delivery vehicles, medical imaging contrast agents, and integral membrane protein crystallisation media. We focus upon the generation of ‘dilutable’ lyotropic liquid crystal phases with two- and three-dimensional geometries from amphiphilic small molecules (225 references).