The Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS) is designed to document the first third of galactic evolution, over the approximate redshift (z) range 8-1.5. It will image >250,000 distant galaxies using three separate cameras on the Hubble Space Telescope, from the mid-ultraviolet to the near-infrared, and will find and measure Type Ia supernovae at z > 1.5 to test their accuracy as standardizable candles for cosmology. Five premier multi-wavelength sky regions are selected, each with extensive ancillary data. The use of five widely separated fields mitigates cosmic variance and yields statistically robust and complete samples of galaxies down to a stellar mass of 109 M ☉ to z ≈ 2, reaching the knee of the ultraviolet luminosity function of galaxies to z ≈ 8. The survey covers approximately 800 arcmin2 and is divided into two parts. The CANDELS/Deep survey (5σ point-source limit H = 27.7 mag) covers ~125 arcmin2 within Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS)-N and GOODS-S. The CANDELS/Wide survey includes GOODS and three additional fields (Extended Groth Strip, COSMOS, and Ultra-deep Survey) and covers the full area to a 5σ point-source limit of H gsim 27.0 mag. Together with the Hubble Ultra Deep Fields, the strategy creates a three-tiered "wedding-cake" approach that has proven efficient for extragalactic surveys. Data from the survey are nonproprietary and are useful for a wide variety of science investigations. In this paper, we describe the basic motivations for the survey, the CANDELS team science goals and the resulting observational requirements, the field selection and geometry, and the observing design. The Hubble data processing and products are described in a companion paper.