First and foremost I'll start off with the statement "It depends." When it comes to design it all depends on the function and purpose of the site you are working on. You would design differently for a simple business site design than having to redesign Amazon or ebay. But the same principle of "Content is King" holds strong for both cases and in any case for that matter. If nothing else have the right content in the right place, if the design isn't the greatest at least the person can find the content they are looking for. Simple is better, though there maybe exceptions at times.
Effectiveness of Design
Emotional Appeal - does the product in the picture look good and make the user want it?
Rational Appeal - does the website show the benefits of the product?
Brand Appeal - does the website fit the brand?
Way to Start
- Always start with a solid grid system and stick to it.
- Think of everything like blocks, you're programmers are thinking of it that way since thats how Drupal works.
Wireframe it Out
- Do even a quick sketch will keep you on track.
- Apps like Balsamiq or even an iPad/Tablet that you can sketch with work wonders.
- And of course the age old paper and pencil. (old school...I know, weird)
Create a Style Guide
Yours should include something along the lines of these:
- List Style
- Other Links
- H1, H2, H3, etc
- Fonts, Google Fonts, etc
- And other functionality
Minimalism - Short sweet and to the point. Including absolutely on what's necessary. Sometimes I must admit it can be too minimal or small. And yet it can be refreshing and clean. Sometimes you need some space.
Whitespace - Don't mean you have to have the color white everywhere but have more padding margin around the design. Let the user breath throughout the design. Too much stuff can feel cluttered and uncomfortable, and you don't want that.
Fullscreen Background Images - Is bigger better? It's a great feature when you have great breath taking imagery, if you don't then I wouldn't go this route.
Parallax Scrolling - Awesome, super fun, probably really hard to design for and sometimes a little too slow for my taste. But I love the effects and the layering that you can do with it. Nike of course does some great work with this, check it out. http://www.nike.com/jumpman23/aj2012.
Responsive Design - I personally feel that this is a must. We all know how many times we look at sites on our phones, thus we should tailor our designs for them. But not to the point that we limit the user from being able to navigate the site. The design and flow of the site should help enhance the user experience when on a mobile device.
Retina Display - As with responsive design, thinking about retina displays and the quality of our images is important. We want the site to look clean and perfect on any device and in any situation.
Lastly, keep your eyes open. Subscribe to different blogs and communities to help stay on top of the latest and greatest.