I'm not a designer
You may not even notice right away, but I added shading to the boxes on this site. This is the final product of over three hours of working on my design.
No, I didn't struggle with making shading images for three hours. I tried to redesign my whole site from scratch. I'm getting a bit bored with seeing the same thing for over a year, and I've been told at least once that my design needs an overhaul.
I messed around with some different layouts and different looks, and some of the changes seemed good. One of my strategies was to put the side boxes with links to the bottom of the page. Although it did look a bit better and cleaner, I didn't want to lose the navigation "above the fold". I think when visitors come for the first time, these links may be the only reason they stick around.
Of all the experimenting I did, one thing was clear: I need to introduce images to add another dimension to this design. I decided that I could do this to the current design. So I did. And that's why I made the shaded boxes.
I think that rather than redesign the whole site, I'll continue to make minor improvements, move things slightly, add images, change the colours, rework the header or footer, etc. It's just too much to redo the thing from scratch, and then I'd lose all the work I've done so far.
Let me say it again in case it's not brutally obvious: I'm not a designer. I don't consider myself a designer. I have always been interested in art, and I like to draw and paint. I also know CSS inside and out. I think I know good design when I see it. But I'm no photoshop ninja. I have ideas in my head, but by the time I'm "finished" I'm looking at an ugly cheap pile of crap. This is an area I'd like to improve, but for now it's just a bit of a hobby.
Many people don't get the difference between a web developer and a web designer.. "Wait, we still have to pay someone to draw the thing? So what do you do exactly??" So maybe it would be in my best interest to tackle some web design.
If any designers out there want to pass on some tips on how to improve or which sites can teach me the tricks, I'd be very grateful.