It is a challenge to increase the visible-light photoresponses of wide-gap metal oxides. In this study, we proposed a new strategy to enhance the visible-light photoresponses of wide-gap semiconductors by deliberately designing a multi-scale nanostructure with controlled architecture. Hollow ZnO microspheres with constituent units in the shape of one-dimensional (1D) nanowire networks, 2D nanosheet stacks, and 3D mesoporous nanoball blocks are synthesized via an approach of two-step assembly, where the oligomers or the constituent nanostructures with specially designed structures are first formed, and then further assembled into complex morphologies. Through deliberate designing of constituent architectures allowing multiple visible-light scattering, reflections, and dispersion inside the multiscale nanostructures, enhanced wide range visible-light photoresponses of the ZnO hollow microspheres were successfully achieved. Compared to the one-step synthesized ZnO hollow microspheres, where no nanostructured constituents were produced, the ZnO hollow microspheres with 2D nanosheet stacks presented a 50 times higher photocurrent in the visible-light range (λ > 420 nm). The nanostructure induced visible-light photoresponse enhancement gives a direction to the development of novel photosensitive materials. This journal is © 2013 The Royal Society of Chemistry.