Content is king. Fascinating content is what actually draws customers. The most fascinating content is short.
To best follow pg's advice here, I wouldn't suggest a laundry list of design tricks. I'd say prototype and refine the 1-second elevator pitch of your service. Take this and put it in bold, clean, friendly letters and images and then design from there.
Clean design will take snapback time from 1 second to 1.5 seconds, but a compelling message is the only thing that will make someone sit down and read further.
(And yeah, definitely put your login in the upper right corner. Consistent UI is almost certainly important here and it'll make your current customers happier.)
Load content first. I get really irritated and tend to avoid sites where I get to sit and look at ads while waiting for the content. I don't mind ads and don't use ad blockers, but it is content that I want and that gets me to a site.
That's an excellent color scheme app! It's hard to make it produce a bad looking color scheme.
This reminds me. I'm not a designer in any way, but I've always wondered whether it would help if the tool you use to design a website is actually focused on designing websites. With photoshop you are editing a list of matrices of pixels. This is a very general tool which means that it doesn't understand the structure of a design well and it takes a huge manual translation step to get to the HTML+CSS+images.
Any ideas on whether and how this could be improved if you made a tool focused solely on designing websites? Not just taking away the translation step but also making designing itself faster.
Excellent basic guidelines. Some of these might overlap with yours:
* Give the user content that they can see at a glance. If you can glance at your web site without seeing content, fix it.
* Use readably large fonts. Even those of us who have good eyesight usually don't want to read small text, and there are a lot of people whose ability to read small fonts has deteriorated with age. You don't really need to cram as much text as possible onto one screen.
* Column width shouldn't fill the whole screen without a very good reason.