Confusing I'd like to hear your defense for. I don't personally find it confusing.
Regardless, what is a better measure for the success of a product's interface than its ability to support a company's objectives? Amazon's site is doing just that.
I also find myself scrolling around and looking for stuff alot on amazon - too much recommendations and stuff...
I find the whole UX clunky, especially the checkout process. Its trying to be too many things to too many people and have solved some hard issues - just not very well.
Edit: Oops! He's right, http://metalabdesign.com/
They are quite good.
"When you're forced to be simple, you're forced to face the real problem. When you can't deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance." -- PG
http://www.metalabdesign.com/about-us/ is full of "cake decoration". Other than that it is nice work.
I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Sure, average people think design is purely decorative, but that does not mean that decoration is not a part of design.
What about their site do you find to be poorly designed?
Look at all of the unnecessary lines framing everything on the page. Instead of adding complexity that potentially confuses the user, they should have used whitespace to group elements.
They also use too many colors. Their use of color is distracting -- it does not add value.
There are a lot of good and interesting ideas there. The problem, I think is that there are too many, and that leaves the page cluttered and distracting.
Also, totally love Refresh Media - http://refreshmedia.com/ - they did http://bacn.com/ for us.
I think stackoverflow if one of the best examples of brilliant UI I've seen recently - certainly one of the best I've seen on the web - but it probably wouldn't make my top list for beautiful design.
This is the crucial point in this whole discussion. If the user has a task to accomplish, the user may indeed want the task to be accomplished in a beautiful environment, but most of all the user wants the task to get done. User interface design is first of all tested by seeing whether or not any typical user anticipated for the site or for the application can accomplish the task successfully.
I also really like what Sofa does:
(checkout the enstore demo, epic: http://www.enstore.com)
Ryan Singer of 37signals was very impressive when I saw him speak at RailsConf this year. I definitely think he's up there.
Also Wilson Miner: http://www.wilsonminer.com/work/
And Greg Newman: http://carbon8.us/
Keep in mind that I don't know many designers, so I've pretty much just listed all the ones I know.
I'm a big fan of the HappyCog crew, Information Architects, and Huge, to limit it to three.
Jonas Rask - http://twitter.com/JonasRask
Jonathan Castro - http://twitter.com/DDrDark
MetaLab Design - http://twitter.com/metalab
Philipp Antoni - http://twitter.com/PhilippAntoni
Stuff they've done:
I also think the work skinnyCorp does (http://www.skinnycorp.com/) on all their sites is fantastic.
My favorite interactive design agency: http://www.2advanced.com/
Also, Dragon Interactive is pretty cool, although they can be mega douches at times.
Also, I think UI design is different from Visual design. I found that some of the posts below are referring to visual specialists only.
Particularly, I like their themes site:
Take music charts for example. The top 20 could be renamed, the '20 records that teenagers like at the moment'.
That said I would like to say that UI designers that work for one company who have one product, do not deserve the same amount of kudos as really skilled agency UI designers who work on upwards of 10 UI's a year. They solve 10 times more problems than those who work on one product.
But I accept your point if this kind of relationship doesnt exist and the site is 'handed over'
could this stand as a sub-topic for top photo shops, branching the 'top UI designers' main theme? (yes, I'm trying realy hard to subvert this topic :p)
I inferred such thing must exist, but I never encountered it in the real world during my tribulations so far :)