I think of my design process as going through tiers of quality, with a Tier One design being something I’ve come up with within my first 4-6 hours of brainstorming. I might end up liking one or two of these designs pretty well, and can get excited enough about it to get others on board. The problem is, Tier One designs are low-hanging fruit, and the designs you’re looking for are at the top of the tree.

Creativity works by finding a connection between two separate ideas. Within our social group we’re trained to make similar connections so that we can successfully communicate with one another. We want our designs to make strong connections – but we also these connections to be unique enough that they enforce our brands’ individuality. Here’s a scenario: when you’re considering a logo design for a company called Black Tie Travel, the first connections you make are probably of bow ties, tuxedos, champagne glasses, airplanes, limousines, etc. These are common visual connections, and they’re also Tier One ideas that anyone can make. Designers who stick with Tier One ideas are the reason many companies believe their secretary could’ve created a logo - because they probably could have. If you push further, you can come up with slightly more creative associations. Maybe consider historical contexts of black tie events, innovations in travel, or choose a distinct decade of formal dress to borrow design elements from – any of these could help give the brand depth.

Another problem with Tier One designs is how easy it is to get attached to them and how tough it can be to let them go. You work on it for a few hours, you loosely tie it together, and you show it to your team. They like it, because even though it’s a Tier One design, it probably falls into the category of “good enough,” and the project moves forward. But now, six weeks of development later, you have a new design epiphany! Why didn’t you think of this earlier! You want to run to your client and tell that you just thought of something BETTER! But now it’s too late. There would have been a better chance at finding something more complex by working through your first pass.

It’s very daunting to start creating from a blank page, but often if you throw all of your Tier One ideas down it will get them out of your system and let you clear your head, like a warm-up before a workout. Don’t be afraid to show your clients your design thinking early on, but keep them informed that design is a process and needs iteration.

I’m afraid I don’t have any qualifications for Tier Two or Tier Three designs, but just knowing they’re out there can keep me from settling on the first thing I design. A good indicator of a Two or a Three is how you feel about it after you’ve put it down for a few days. If you’re having trouble making the jump away from your first ideas, don’t be too proud to ask for help – sometimes a connection someone else makes can trigger a new connection for yourself.