The designer of a database builds a formal model of the application area or universe of discourse (UoD). The model requires a good understanding of the UoD and a means of specifying this understanding in a clear, unambiguous way. Object-Role Modeling (ORM) simplifies the design process by using natural language, as well as intuitive diagrams which can be populated with examples, and by examining the information in terms of simple or elementary facts. By expressing the model in terms of natural concepts, like objects and roles, it provides a conceptual approach to modeling. Its attribute-free approach promotes semantic stability.
Another conceptual approach is provided by Entity-Relationship modeling (ER). Although ER models can be useful once the design process is finished, they are less suitable for formulating, transforming or evolving a design. ER diagrams are further removed from natural language, cannot be populated with fact instances, require complex design choices about attributes, lack the expressibility and simplicity of a role-based notation for constraints, hide information about the semantic domains which glue the model together, and lack adequate support for formal transformations.
A recent variation of ORM is referred to as FCO-IM. It distinguishes itself from traditional ORM in that it takes a strict communication oriented perspective. Rather than modelling the domain and its essential concepts, it purely models the grammar used to discourse about the domain. Another recent development is the use of ORM in combination with standardised relation types with associated roles and a standard machine-readable dictionary and taxonomy of concepts as are provided in the Gellish English dictionary. Standardisation of relation types (fact types), roles and concepts enables increased possibilities for model integration and model reuse.
ORM's rich graphic notation is capable of capturing many business rules that are typically unsupported as graphic primitives in other popular data modeling notations.
Various software tools exist to enter ORM schemas, and generate relational database schemas. These include Microsoft Visio for Enterprise Architects, CaseTalk, Infagon, and NORMA.
NORMA (Neumont ORM Architect), an open source plug-in to Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, supports ORM 2 (second generation ORM), and maps ORM schemas to a variety of implementation targets, including relational DBMSs, object-oriented code, and XML schema. As of April 2006, NORMA (accessible at the SourceForge link  below) is in a prototype stage, but is evolving to a full production version.
A graphical NIAM design tool which included the ability to generate database-creation scripts for Oracle, DB2 and DBQ was developed in the early 1990s in Paris. It was originally named Genesys and was marketed successfully in France and later Canada. It could also handle ER diagram design. It was ported to SCO Unix, SunOs, DEC 3151's and Windows 3.0 platforms, and was later migrated to succeeding Microsoft operating systems, utilising XVT for cross operating system graphical portability.