I found developing a page in a graphics package until I liked it and then splicing it up into gifs and jpegs to create the html page usually a good way to proceed. I used to use a program called Ulead PhotoImpact SE to do graphics.
Anyhow you should not take advice from me as I am no graphic designer, I did not do too badly but it was one of my weaker areas and you could tell the difference when you viewed a well designed site!
I don't know what happened. However, I'm curious what the purpose or purposes of your site(s) will be. Beauty, of course is in the eye of the beholder. A fancy, dancy theme may not be suitable for marketing, while a site geared to marketing probably will not try to dazzle the visitor with extensive graphics.
I use WordPress exclusively, and may have some suggestions. Of course, there are some who post on this board who detest WordPress, but I ignore all that based on my own experience.
What about using something like Drupal and their themes? Would that be better than Wordpress?
By "beautiful" I don't necessarily mean a fancy and dazzling site, just one that doesn't look like it was designed by an engineer! :) Starting each website I build from scratch is a real pain when I have to think about layout, design, and making it look clean and professional and then coding that in HTML together with the PHP code.
So I want to streamline that "design" process as much as possible so I can focus on the PHP/MySQL coding.
When I was building sites (a couple of years ago now) I slowly found things that I liked, page width for example, and ways of formatting text also, a particular style of header then having a printable page using css noprint and the like.
I could do other designs but I found I had a lot invested in "my way of doing things".
Hi Mark_A, that's just it, I currently don't have a "my way of doing things" so I'm looking to start from scratch and find a tool, template, service, whatever to MAKE IT into my own way of doings things so that future developments are done a lot quicker.
Can you not just develop your own style initially by taking ideas from other sites that you like. The view source option is often useful for finding out how people have done things, and then taking a copy of their css from your cache and also looking through it.
I just used a graphic design package and a wysiwyg html editor. I didn't find I needed more than that.
I'm currently involved with a big Drupal project that extends over scores of domains. Drupal can certainly do the job in putting out good source code. But you still need to design or provide the templates for the pages somehow. So the look and feel of the site still depends on someone somewhere in the chain having design skills.
Even though you're asking about clean and beautiful pages, I'd also caution about the amount of work and knowledge it takes to make any CMS platform truly search engine friendly. This development team I've been working with has had a lot of struggles in that area.
The quick and "humorous" answer is "hire somebody". As for "clean and beautiful" your CONTENT and PURPOSE dictate the appearance. Look at any requirements for site operation to determine if VISUAL or TEXTUAL is needed. Most ecommerce sites have little need to be the latest photo/art gallery with fancy borders, animations, or "pretty." News or Educational or Information sites lean toward readable text presented in easy to view formats.
Once one reaches the need to automate page generation, or some part of the page content (php, database, commerce/products) SOME of the potential visual "beauty" is traded off to achieve that efficiency.
There is no ONE best "clean and beautiful" except for clean code beautifully delivered to the browser with few to no validation errors! AND has SEO friendly URI from the very start.
You could try Artisteer. This software can automatically generate templates (for Wordpress, and other CMS's, or for a site that doesn't use a CMS). You can let it generate random ones, until you find one you like.
Hi, If you are a developer this may also apply to you - personally for anything more than a hobby site or one with a tiny budget I always get a web designer to do the design which leaves me to do the developing which is the bit i'm good at.
When I first started out I wanted to be able to do everything and it frustrated me that my design skills were weak - but being good at everything isn't always possible. I did a technical degree so that is my background - not design. These days I am happy to pay someone who will do a job 10 times better 10 times faster as it makes financial sense.
When talking to a designer about this he put it well - "get people doing what they are good at" and this advice has stood me well for lots of different aspects of my work.
I'm not saying some developers can't also design well (I hate those people! ;)) but don't be afraid to out source this type of work if you can.
I think that is good advice morehawes, I was also not good at design, I used to take weeks worrying about colourschemes and header designs etc .. a proper designer could have whizzed through all that in a fraction of the time.
Remember too that not all templates are portable, and you may have limitations regarding the amount of tweaking you can do. One size rarely fits all. If your site is designed to your specifications, you have a lot more room to wiggle.
I agree with the concept of reviewing sites and making a list of what you like/don't like. Overall, your content will help to dictate the look and feel, but having a wish list will bring you closer to your ideal end result.