Sam Behjati, Susan Lindsay, Sarah A. Teichmann, and Muzlifah Haniffa Human development is regulated by spatiotemporally restricted molecular programmes and is pertinent to many areas of basic biology and human medicine, such as stem cell biology, reproductive medicine and childhood cancer. Mapping human development has presented significant technological, logistical and ethical challenges. The availability of established human developmental biorepositories and the advent of cutting-edge single-cell technologies provide new opportunities to study human development. Here, we present a working framework for the establishment of a human developmental cell atlas exploiting single-cell genomics and spatial analysis. We discuss how the development atlas will benefit the scientific and clinical communities to advance our understanding of basic biology, health and disease.