Life creates some of its most robust, extreme surface materials not from solids but from liquids: a purely liquid interface, stabilized by underlying nanotexture, makes carnivorous plant leaves ultraslippery, the eye optically perfect and dirt-resistant, our knees lubricated and pressure-tolerant, and insect feet reversibly adhesive and shape-adaptive. Novel liquid surfaces based on this idea have recently been shown to display unprecedented omniphobic, self-healing, anti-ice, antifouling, optical, and adaptive properties. In this Perspective, we present a framework and a path forward for developing and designing such liquid surfaces into sophisticated, versatile multifunctional materials. Drawing on concepts from solid materials design and fluid dynamics, we outline how the continuous dynamics, responsiveness, and multiscale patternability of a liquid surface layer can be harnessed to create a wide range of unique, active interfacial functions -able to operate in harsh, changing environments- not achievable with static solids. We discuss how, in partnership with the underlying substrate, the liquid surface can be programmed to adaptively and reversibly reconfigure from a defect-free, molecularly smooth, transparent interface through a range of finely tuned liquid topographies in response to environmental stimuli. With nearly unlimited design possibilities and unmatched interfacial properties, liquid materials -as long-term stable interfaces yet in their fully liquid state- may potentially transform surface design everywhere from medicine to architecture to energy infrastructure.