Design synthesis of distributed compliant mechanisms is often a two-stage process involving (a) conceptual topology synthesis and a subsequent (b) refinement stage to meet strength and manufacturing specifications. The usefulness of a solution is ascertained only after the sequential completion of these two steps that are, in general, computationally intensive. This paper presents a strategy to rapidly estimate final operating stresses even before the actual refinement process. This strategy is based on the uniform stress distribution metric, and a functional characterization of the different members that constitute the compliant mechanism topology. Furthermore, this paper uses the underlying mechanics of stress bound estimation to propose two rule of thumb guidelines for insightful selection of topologies and systematically modifying them for an application. The selection of the best conceptual solution in the early stage design avoids refinement of topologies that inherently may not meet the stress constraints. This paper presents two examples that illustrate these guidelines through the selection and refinement of topologies for a planar compliant gripper application.