Host-defense, antibiotic peptides are believed to generate their cytolytic effects by interacting with the membranes of bacterial cells. Direct analyses of peptide interactions with real cellular membranes are difficult, however, due to the high complexity of physiological membranes. This review summarizes experimental work aiming to understand peptide-membrane interactions and their relationships with the peptides' biological actions using specific model systems. Varied model assemblies have been constructed that generally aim to mimic the fundamental lipid bilayer organization of the membrane. The model systems we will describe include multilamellar and unilamellar vesicles, planar lipid bilayers, lipid monolayers and micelles, and colorimetric biomimetic membranes. The different artificial models have facilitated examination of specific biological or chemical parameters affecting peptide action, for example the effect of membrane lipid composition on peptide affinities and membrane penetration, the relationship between membrane fluidity and peptide interactions, the conformations of active peptides, and other factors. We evaluate the strengths and limitations of the various approaches, and point to future directions in the field.