Organs-on-chips (OoCs) are systems containing engineered or natural miniature tissues grown inside microfluidic chips. To better mimic human physiology, the chips are designed to control cell microenvironments and maintain tissue-specific functions. Combining advances in tissue engineering and microfabrication, OoCs have gained interest as a next-generation experimental platform to investigate human pathophysiology and the effect of therapeutics in the body. There are as many examples of OoCs as there are applications, making it difficult for new researchers to understand what makes one OoC more suited to an application than another. This Primer is intended to give an introduction to the aspects of OoC that need to be considered when developing an application-specific OoC. The Primer covers guiding principles and considerations to design, fabricate and operate an OoC, as well as subsequent assaying techniques to extract biological information from OoC devices. Alongside this is a discussion of current and future applications of OoC technology, to inform design and operational decisions during the implementation of OoC systems.