When it comes to thinking of a concept or approach for a design project, it’s not all that hard to have a first idea. In fact, just about everyone does. When you hold a word association experiment, you find that when given a specific word or concept, people largely think of many of the same things. There’s possibly a few different answers here and there, but they’re typically the exception. Average it out, you’ll see the majority is a significant amount of the same reactions.

This is where cliches come from.

As designers, it’s our job to pursue a unique direction that effectively enables the project stand apart. The quickest way to get to this point is to hurry up and have that first idea. Once you’ve got it, throw it out. Completely toss your first idea. If you can do this, you’re one step closer to making something distinctive and notable.

These unique ideas are rarely come by in a single sit-down session. This is why I don’t think charging by the hour is feasible for a design professional. If you are a technician, sure, sit down, crank something out and invoice your client for the time you spent working. But professionals bring more to the table.

Original designs and remarkable approaches result from the marriage of simple concepts and unique ideas. It takes an initial brainstorming session in which numerous iterations are experimented with and tested, followed by a stretch of time for the idea to blossom organically. This is sometimes referred to as the “sleep on it” period.

You see, our brains process things throughout the day, most often when we give ourselves spare moments to think. You know how your dreams will be comprised of a random conglomorate of the day’s events? That’s your mind working things out and making sense of your experiences. It’s also why we often get good ideas in the shower, or lying in bed before sleep. It’s the reason breaks are healthy and beneficial, and why a mid-day walk can jump-start your creative thinking.

Once you’ve fueled your mind with the results of an initial brainstorming session, you need to allow yourself time to process. It’s this time that cannot be billed. You have to separate yourself from the stress of deadlines and emails to be effective. That means getting out of the office. That means reading a book to your son. That means shooting some pool with your friends. It’s not laziness; it’s responsible designing.

Build this extra time into your process and account for it in your time frames. A client that is rushing you is not a client that is interested in quality design. Be selective about the projects you take on, and ensure that they will allow you to think beyond your first idea.