Intermediate filaments (IFs) are composed of one or more members of a large family of cytoskeletal proteins, whose expression is cell- and tissue type-specific. Their importance in regulating the physiological properties of cells is becoming widely recognized in functions ranging from cell motility to signal transduction. IF proteins assemble into nanoscale biopolymers with unique strain-hardening properties that are related to their roles in regulating the mechanical integrity of cells. Furthermore, mutations in the genes encoding IF proteins cause a wide range of human diseases. Due to the number of different types of IF proteins, we have limited this short review to cover structure and function topics mainly related to the simpler homopolymeric IF networks composed of vimentin, and specifically for diseases, the related muscle-specific desmin IF networks.