This article reviews the physical and chemical constraints of environments on biofilm formation. We provide a perspective on how materials science and engineering can address fundamental questions and unmet technological challenges in this area of microbiology, such as biofilm prevention. Specifically, we discuss three factors that impact the development and organization of bacterial communities. (1) Physical properties of surfaces regulate cell attachment and physiology and affect early stages of biofilm formation. (2) Chemical properties influence the adhesion of cells to surfaces and their development into biofilms and communities. (3) Chemical communication between cells attenuates growth and influences the organization of communities. Mechanisms of spatial and temporal confinement control the dimensions of communities and the diffusion path length for chemical communication between biofilms, which, in turn, influences biofilm phenotypes. Armed with a detailed understanding of biofilm formation, researchers are applying the tools and techniques of materials science and engineering to revolutionize the study and control of bacterial communities growing at interfaces.