Web designers have always fallen into two main categories: Visual Designers and Coders. The visual designer dreams up magnificent imagery and hip graphics to represent their client's brand, often at the expense of efficiency, cross-browser support, and maintainability. The coder deals with the arcane back-end technologies with acronyms like HTML, CSS, PHP and ASP.NET. The coder will often be at odds with the visual designer's goals, explaining that elaborate graphics or animated thingys just aren't practical, for various cryptic reasons. The result is usually some form of compromise that works, but doesn't necessarily hit the target square on.
The New Web Designer
I like to think of the term 'Designer' as more than just a graphic designer. The design of a site encompasses all of the content, not just imagery. A well-designed site has a clean layout, organized content, good font choice, and is easily maintained. Thus, a designer needs to also be a planner, organizer, and (how terrible!) have an understanding of the code.
Focus on Site Content
Modern web design has come a long way from 2 minute Flash intros, scrolling banner text, iFrames and other hideous design trends that hinder site performance. Today's designs focus on user experience, proper information display, navigational ease, and cross-browser compatibility. With the mobile device revolution and popularity of tablets like Xoom and iPad, sites are focusing more on simplicity and speed, with designs that let the content shine instead of blinding the user with gaudy graphic novelty.
How to Make Your Web Design Better
Instead of starting with the colors and size of the logo, a site should be planned first around the presentation of content and ease of use. Map out the placement of content on a high level – Where does the contact info go? Where does the news section go? Think about your visitors – what are they looking for? Narrow that list down to just a few things…take the top 3 things a user will want to find and make sure those things are dead-simple to locate. Even a split-second of indecision can mean a lost visit. Think hard before implementing that fancy navigation system – is it adding to the user experience or does it just look cool?
Once the few primary content items have a home, you can determine how the rest of the site will flow. If you have a blog or news section, make sure the older articles are search-able and categorized. Just because it isn't the latest article doesn't mean someone out there has seen it. While you are at it, make sure the content is easily index-able by search engines. Those old articles can still help your Google rank. Most CMS systems have built-in search functions that allow users to find articles…yet another reason to use them.
Good Designers Always Think Ahead
It is important to make sure your site has room to grow. If your site continuously adds content, (which it should!) where will it go? Is there room to expand or is the layout so fixed graphically that any changes are a massive headache and require a committee to solve? Taking on the mentality that EVERYTHING on the site may expand is a good strategy. Most modern design techniques are rooted in the concepts of fluidity, adaptation, flexibility, and simplicity. Your site should deliver it's content to the user in a usable way no matter what browser or device they are using.