Gene therapy offers great opportunities for the treatment of severe diseases including cancer. In recent years the design of synthetic carriers for nucleic acid delivery has become a research field of increasing interest. Studies on the delivery of plasmid DNA (pDNA) have brought up a variety of gene delivery vehicles. The more recently emerged gene silencing strategy by the intracellular delivery of small interfering RNA (siRNA) takes benefit from existing expertise in pDNA transfer. Despite common properties however, delivery of siRNA also faces distinct challenges due to apparent differences in size, stability of the formed nucleic acid complexes, the location and mechanism of action. This review emphasizes the common aspects and main differences between pDNA and siRNA delivery, taking into consideration a wide spectrum of polymer-based, lipidic and peptide carriers. Challenges and opportunities which result from these differences as well as the recent progress made in the optimization of carrier design are presented.