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I believe that you need a unique and attractive logo but that beyond this graphics can actually be distracting especially moving graphics. I am more inclined to be concerned about quality of content.
I would appreciate any thoughts on this.
One of the things people have said that they like about my site is the general lack of "flash and dash". But my site is educational, and "sizzle" tends to distract from the purpose -- or, in the case of some "competing" sites, tries to "cover" for a lack of useful content.
On the other hand, time-consuming, sometimes seizure-inducing, graphics seem to be almost required on "gamer" sites.
You need to find the mix that works best for you. *smile*
P.S. People like being asked their opinion. If you have two potential designs (say, one you like and another of which your buddy approves), put a poll on your site, asking your actual users which they prefer. You could use screen-shots for the polling options.
As far as using standard images I use them extensively in many of websites, however there is fine line between making it look good and going overboard. Subtle use of textures, gradients and shadows can go a very long way. I try and break up monotonous colors and backgrounds but not something that pops out like a sore thumb.
They come to a site to solve their problems. Content, content, content.
If the graphics don't contribute to this prime objective, they have no place on your site. Graphic interfaces are only effective to identify the company and assist in making the experience easier: navigation, legibility, clear and intuitive usage of the site. So like you say, logo and basic stuff. :-)
Best example: Craiglist. Where's the graphics? Oh, they don't need them, that's not why people go there.
If you're selling items, an investment in accurate and compelling pictures of the items is important, but IMO the GUI is a secondary consideration.