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Continuing with that theme, let's show some examples of layouts you think are excellent. Obviously, no self-promotion.
When you post the site, also say what about the layout strikes you as so good. Hopefully we will all learn a bit.
It's easy to appreciate brilliant visual design, but a brilliant layout is a whole different creature. Layout should be a servant for the visitor. And as with all good servants, the better it is the more unobtrusive it is. Brilliant layout is so highly functional that you never focus on it, because you are just getting on with the task that brings you to the site.
Good layout would also be strongly intertwined with good Information Architecture, because that's where you determine what needs to be "laid out" in the first place. With lousy IA, no layout can ever be brilliant enough to redeem the site.
Because of all this, layouts are tending toward certain expected standards -- layout is one area of site development where you innovate at great risk. For instance, I have some high performing sites with right hand navigation and content on the left.
In each case, I knew I was breaking with the expected layout customs and I chose right side for the principal navigation only after solid consideration. But there were other factors in these cases that made right hand nav seem a better choice. And still, I wonder if a more conventional layout would perform better, but the sites are successful, so why mess with them?
What could I point to as brilliant layout? Possible Amazon, because they have one of the most heavily tested layouts online today. Over time the Amazon pages have evolved to the point where I just know where to look for the elements I need and I rarely if ever feel lost on the page.
I also note that over the years Getty Images has struggled to find the right layout. Their current setup makes effective use of frames to keep my overall task right in front of me (the lightbox) even as I scour their inventory searching for just a few more images to complete my job. Still, it's better but I do have moments of "now where is that?" when using their site.
Of course, my own site is also pretty good, but I won't go self-promoting! ;)
It's beautifully laid-out, with clear categories, sharp graphics and a sense of simplicty which does the designer credit. From the technical viewpoint, it uses an elastic, fluid layout, minimalist markup and friendly URLs, all generated from a CMS. It validates as HTML 4.01 Strict on most pages.
Sadly, it contrasts with Mozilla's own Bugzilla pages, which are so complex as to be verging on the unusable. Well, you can't have everything!
BlueRobot Layout Reservoir- Need I say more)
Cornucopia of CSS hints and accessibility tips;
My only criticism of their site is that it's too much for me. I prefer thin, thin, thin. And there's a point where you can have too much code and content on one page. Unfortunately, most big business sites don't really have a choice.
Simple > all. I think the more different types of content that appear on one page, the uglier and less effective it is. Google does a great job of only giving you what you need, yet it doesnt take more than 10 seconds to find any service they offer by clicking the "more" tag and being brought to another beautiful page with neat lines and great images.
It's pretty straightforward - just play around with it a bit and if you hit a roadblock ask over in our CSS FOrum [webmasterworld.com].