Recent macro- and particle-scale advances in unsaturated soil behaviour have led to an enhanced understanding of the effects of moisture changes on soil response. This research examines desiccation cracks as a suction–contraction-coupled process using sand–clay mixtures. Suction–moisture measurements highlight the role of fines on suction potential even at low fines content; on the other hand, oedometer tests exhibit a marked transition from sand-controlled to clay-controlled compressibility. Time-lapse photography of desiccation tests in flat trays show the onset of crack initiation and the subsequent evolution in horizontal strains; concurrent gravimetric water content measurements relate crack nucleation to suction at air entry. Suction and compressibility increase with the soil-specific surface and have a compounded effect on desiccation-driven lateral contraction. Both layer thickness and its lateral extent affect the development of desiccation cracks. The recently proposed revised soil classification system properly anticipates the transitions in compressibility and capillary phenomena observed in this study (between 15 and 35% fines content).