I want to follow up on yesterday’s note by pointing out that my focus was not on criticizing clients for focusing on the look of their sites. The visual design of a web site is very important. My emphasis is on making sure that the great layout and graphics are created to support the great content and site structure that you have in place. Otherwise it is like building a beautiful house with no foundation. Nobody wants to stay there very long.
As designers we have the experience and perspective to understand that a web site must contain valuable, meaningful content in the form of text and images that will help visitors meet their objectives in visiting the site. In many situations that will involve helping users to make a decision about an action such as a purchasing a product or service or contacting someone for more information. In order to do that the users of a site must see more than some cool graphics and a nice layout. Those elements should be created to emphasize parts of the content or navigation of the site to make information easier to find and use.
Designing with web standards like XHTML and CSS pushes us into a positive work flow where we can build a strong foundation with a solid Information Architecture and solid content before we move on to decorating the site with cool graphics and stunning layouts.