In stark contrast to foldable proteins with a unique folded state, intrinsically disordered proteins and regions (IDPs) persist in perpetually disordered ensembles. Yet an IDP ensemble has conformational features—even when averaged—that are specific to its sequence. In fact, subtle changes in an IDP sequence can modulate its conformational features and its function. Recent advances in theoretical physics reveal a set of elegant mathematical expressions that describe the intricate relationships among IDP sequences, their ensemble conformations, and the regulation of their biological functions. These equations also describe the molecular properties of IDP sequences that predict similarities and dissimilarities in their functions and facilitate classification of sequences by function, an unmet challenge to traditional bioinformatics. These physical sequence-patterning metrics offer a promising new avenue for advancing synthetic biology at a time when multiple novel functional modes mediated by IDPs are emerging.