Prototyping is the process of building a model of a system. In terms of an information system, prototypes are employed to help system designers build an information system that intuitive and easy to manipulate for end users. Prototyping is an iterative process that is part of the analysis phase of the systems development life cycle.
During the requirements determination portion of the systems analysis phase, system analysts gather information about the organization's current procedures and business processes related the proposed information system. In addition, they study the current information system, if there is one, and conduct user interviews and collect documentation. This helps the analysts develop an initial set of system requirements.
Prototyping can augment this process because it converts these basic, yet sometimes intangible, specifications into a tangible but limited working model of the desired information system. The user feedback gained from developing a physical system that the users can touch and see facilitates an evaluative response that the analyst can employ to modify existing requirements as well as developing new ones.
Prototyping comes in many forms - from low tech sketches or paper screens(Pictive) from which users and developers can paste controls and objects, to high tech operational systems using CASE (computer-aided software engineering) or fourth generation languages and everywhere in between. Many organizations use multiple prototyping tools. For example, some will use paper in the initial analysis to facilitate concrete user feedback and then later develop an operational prototype using fourth generation languages, such as Visual Basic, during the design stage.