At university, and for the few years afterwards, I ran an indie publishers. This was in the days before serious social networking and (affordable) home broadband. I had to bike back from work and stop at the university library to use their broadband internet.
All my website design stemmed from editing templates. I have no formal qualifications, and a mediocre graphic design skills. However, I knew what I found impressive in a website:
1) Easy to read – text isn’t size 10 (or even smaller!)
2) Obviously maintained – new content appearing on a weekly basis.
3) Quick access to to most used links.
What isn’t impressive are flash galleries that take an age to load, or music that rolls, or an introduction that has to be skipped on each visit. Also distinctly unimpressive are:
1) Websites that haven’t been updated/maintained for months.
2) Pictures that require scrolling to see new content.
3) Menu bars that stretch across the screen to infinity.
http://www.sheffieldhighschool.org.uk/home – Fits onto one page, has a relatively limited number of menu links, and seems updated on a regular basis. My heart drops when I see the drop-down menus, but it does have a button for those interested in applying for the school.
http://www.carltonbolling.co.uk – Doesn’t have too many options on top menu bar, seems updated regularly, and has a sleek design. However, menu bars seems a little eclectic.
These are both decent enough websites. There are some horror-show websites that usually fall down by not being populated effectively with current content. One of my old schools recently revamped their website to the tune of £10k. Until recently, there was perhaps, say two or three posts a month. Even then, most of the updates were notices.