Broadly speaking, effective design comprises of form and function. Most of the time, it"s the latter that matters most to how the site performs, but it"s frequently the former that clients are initially most concerned with. It"s easy to be distracted by the small details (what shade of orange the logo is when viewed on different browsers) and lose sight of what you are really trying to achieve, be it sales, saving time for your business, being indexed by search engines etcetera.
Our approach is to strip out what isn"t useful - avoid duplication of information, and in general show a bit of respect to the intelligence of site users. Times have changed, and people are far more familiar with the internet, it"s conventions and peculiarities.
A good design is built around the effective display of information. Most sites can be presented as a flow diagram. Like shopping at Tesco"s, too much choice can serve to complicate simple issues. Alot of links are never clicked on sites, so they might as well not be there. Colours should not be used just to decorate, they should indicate something tangible too, like "This can be clicked" or "This is information related to this section".
There is a sliding scale as to how important the appearance of the site is as opposed to how well does the site work. If you are building a recruitment site which has the primary function of advertising and filling multiple vacancies, that is certainly the most important aspect. If you are setting up a recording studio, it may be that the aesthetic of the site is more important to the success of the site in the real terms of concrete results.