Defining Good Design
There are two ways most people determine whether a website design is "good" or "bad.": strict usability angle and aesthetics. Usability focuses on functionality and the effective presentation of information. Aesthetics focuses on the artistic value and visual appeal of the design. Some focus only on the aesthetics and graphics, and forget about the user, while some usability gurus get lost in their user testing and forget about visual appeal.
In order to reach people and retain their interest, it's essential to maximize both. The most important point to keep in mind is that design is about communication. If you create a website that works and presents information well, but looks ugly or fails to fit with the client's brand, no one will want to use it. Similarly, if you make a beautiful website that is hard to use or inaccessible, people will leave. The elements and functionality of a finished website design should work as a single cohesive unit, so that users are pleased by the design but drawn to the content One of the biggest concerns among usability professionals is the time it takes users to scan the page for the information they want, be it a piece of content, a link to another page, or a form field. The design should not be a hindrance; it should act as a conduit between the user and the information. A good custom design website takes all of this into consideration.
Often overlooked in the design process is how a custom designed background image can enhance the website design. Here are some links that can give you inspiration on using background images effectively. Text is and will remain the main form of communication for your website, but the color and layout and design can create a significant impact on your message. A beautiful website is not an end in itself, but it helps your website create an overall message.
The Web Designer Wall website by Nick La is a good example of a design that is usable and beautiful. The background flows around the page and the navigation and site elements are very clear.
Smashing Magazine has a great discussion on examples and best practices on using backgrounds in website design.
Intuitive Navigation is necessary to make sure that users do not get confused about where they are and they understand how to get to the different pages. The main navigation block can be horizontal or vertical and, if vertical, can be in the left or right column. Sometimes both columns are used. But no matter, the navigation should be clear and consist ant across the entire website. The navigation structure should change appearance when hovered over by the mouse and should actively indicate which page the user is on. On the below menu, the user is on the Home page and has moved the mouse to hover over the Clubhouse link.
A navigation menu from Columbia University Club of New York
Secondary navigation and links should not dominant the page. Making these separate from the content and making them easy to find allows users to focus on what is important, yet they'll know where to click on when they're ready to move on to other pages.
A good custom designed website takes all of this into consideration.