The formation and invagination of the optic stalk coincides with the migration of cranial neural crest (CNC) cells, and a growing body of data reveals that the optic stalk and CNC cells communicate to lay the foundations for periocular and craniofacial development. Following migration, the interaction between the developing eye and surrounding periocular mesenchyme (POM) continues, leading to induction of transcriptional regulatory cascades that regulate craniofacial morphogenesis. Studies in chick, mice, and zebrafish have revealed a remarkable level of genetic and mechanistic conservation, affirming the power of each animal model to shed light on the broader morphogenic process. This review will focus on the role of the developing eye in orchestrating craniofacial morphogenesis, utilizing morphogenic gradients, paracrine signaling, and transcriptional regulatory cascades to establish an evolutionarily-conserved facial architecture. We propose that in addition to the forebrain, the eye functions during early craniofacial morphogenesis as a key organizer of facial development, independent of its role in vision. genesis 49:222–230, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.