We present a qualitative computer graphics approach to the characterization of forces important to the assembly of beta domains that should have general utility for examining protein interactions and assembly. In our approach, the nature of the molecular surface buried by the domain contacts, the specificity of the residue-to-residue interactions, and the identity of electrostatic, hydrophobic, and hydrophilic interactions are elucidated. These techniques are applied to the beta barrel domains of Cu, Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD), immunoglobulin Fab, and tomato bushy stunt virus coat protein (TBSV), a plant viral capsid protein. By looking at a set of proteins having different numbers of interacting beta domains, we have been able to see some of the variety and also some of the patterns common to these assembled domains. Strong beta domain interactions (identified by their biochemical integrity) are apparently due to chemical, electrostatic, and shape complementarity of the molecular surfaces buried from interaction with solvent molecules. Although the amount of hydrophobic buried surface area appears to correlate with the strength of the interaction, electrostatic forces appear to be important in both stabilizing and destabilizing specific contacts. In TBSV, analysis of electrostatic interactions may help explain mechanisms of subunit accommodation to different environments, particle expansion, and pathways of assembly. The possible molecular basis for observed differences in the stability and flexibility of the domain complexes is discussed.