But it's kind of amusing to read this, because this year we got Bryan Kennedy (http://pairwise.com) to fly out and fix up some of the uglier sites, and I can hear him down the hall talking to one group of founders right now.
It sucks not being a jack of all trades (then again, I'd hate to be a master of none...)
If you can't design the (original) Porsche 911,
just design a Land Rover
The thing to avoid is getting halfway to cool design and ending up with a Pontiac Aztek
or an Edsel
The problem is not that they strayed from conventions. The problem with that car is that it's fugly.
People also thought the Aeron was ugly when it came out...
It's just visual that's the problem, though-- I know elegance in proofs and programs, and I know good music; a Monet, though, does no more for me than a hotel painting, in that they're both kind of blurry.
I can still find things like Myspace obnoxious compared to Facebook, but only because of functionality and usage patterns, not any sense of aesthetics.
Most of what makes these sites seem so nice is that they're familiar and "modern web 2.0". Scribd is very Diggish for example.
Inkscape is like magic for creating nice logos, if you keep it simple. Truly anyone can do it. Use a color scheme tool like http://kuler.adobe.com/. Don't invent a totally unique design, imitate someone at first.
Anyone who can code well can easily reproduce nice simple site designs. Overcoming the "I can't design" mental block is the hardest part. Becoming a real design master takes a lot more effort obviously.
Often, half the battle is just knowing good design when you see it (i.e. picking what to emulate).
These are actually a win. Look at reddit, ebay, Google. I bet the coders/engineers/computer-scientists there thought they couldn't design either.
[As an aside those faded blue gradients make me want to throw a rotten tomato at Jason Fried.]
Also, from a usability perspective, there are a number of tools people use. Lots of them boil down to "figure out why people can't use this or think it's ugly". But i'm no expert.
Also, it helps to have a sense of aesthetics. That usually comes when you admit something is ugly, and grows from there.
There are a ridiculous number of design books out there. You could probably finish "Laws of Simplicity" in an hour.
Note that I'm no designer.
I too have no design skills, but believe I can create at least a decent site if I tried. The hardest part is overcoming the fact that you probably can build a decent looking site if you tried.