One of the best things that I learned this previous year was an article in a magazine called Before & After. The implored the reader to focus on the product.
Often it is easy to get distracted with all the details of a design and lose focus on the real purpose of the design. We like our glossy buttons, our cool grunge effects and our colorful palette. All these things have no worth unless they are complementing A) the product and B) the Message.
It is my suggestion to always start a design off with your main objective. Really focus on what's going to bring attention to it. Where you want it.
For example, I am working on a website that sells LED lights. I could have it look like a typical e-commerce site with tons of links menus and product thumbnails. However, I opted for placing a large image of the product right in the middle of the page.
All your attention is drawn to the product. It dominates the design. The LED lights are the utility that a consumer is buying. They will discover the brand name and more about the options later.
Perhaps, the brand is what's important to the end-viewer, then put the Brand logo, name and colors right in front of their face.
Such a simple concept that can improve any design and I believe make companies more successful.