ABSTRACT Understanding the cellular organization of tissues is key to developmental biology. In order to deal with this complex problem, researchers have taken advantage of reductionist approaches to reveal fundamental morphogenetic mechanisms and quantitative laws. For epithelia, their two-dimensional representation as polygonal tessellations has proved successful for understanding tissue organization. Yet, epithelial tissues bend and fold to shape organs in three dimensions. In this context, epithelial cells are too often simplified as prismatic blocks with a limited plasticity. However, there is increasing evidence that a realistic approach, even from a reductionist perspective, must include apico-basal intercalations (i.e. scutoidal cell shapes) for explaining epithelial organization convincingly. Here, we present an historical perspective about the tissue organization problem. Specifically, we analyze past and recent breakthroughs, and discuss how and why simplified, but realistic, in silico models require scutoidal features to address key morphogenetic events.