Steve's comment to my post below reminded me of a description by Charles Eames of the process that he and Eero Saarinen used in designing a chair, which appear in Ralph Caplan's book By Design. According to Caplan, Charles had been asked about the "trick" of winning competitions (something near and dear to the heart of any budding designer), and he admitted there was one, though he credited it to Eero. I'm going to quote it in full from the book:
This is the trick, I give it to you, you can use it. We looked at the program and divided it into the essential elements, which turned out to be thirty odd. And we proceeded methodically to make one hundred studies of each element. At the end of the hundred studies we tried to get the solution for that element that suited the thing best, and then set that up as a standard below which we would not fall in the final scheme. Then we proceeded to break down all logical combinations of these elements, trying to not erode the quality that we gained in the best of the hundred single elements; and then we took those elements and began to search for the logical combinations of combinations, and several of such stages before we even began to consider a plan. And at that point, when we felt we'd gone far enough to consider a plan, worked out study after study and on into the other aspects of the detail and the presentation.
It went on, it was sort of a brutal thing, and at the end of this period, it was a two-stage comptetion and sure enough we were in the second stage. Now you have o start; what do you do? We reorganized all elements, but this time, with a little bit more experience, chose the elements in a different way (still had about 26, 28 or 30) and proceeded: we made 100 studies of every element; we took every logical group of elements and studied those together in a way that would not fall below the stanard that we had set. And went right on down the procedure. And at the end of that time, before the second competition drawings went in, we really wept, it looked so idiotically simple we thought we'd blown the whole bit. And won the competition. This is the secret and you can apply it.
This is the chair they designed. As you can see, it is incredibly simple. Simple is difficult.