Forget about design altogether and just go out and find those items that have to be incorporated in your design. Your client will have given you what the website has to be about. That will be the basis of your design. That is the one thing you cannot change. You can alter things around it but the core is the client’s business. If he already had a logo, and if he has been in business a while he probably will have. These are your fixed items.
When you are creating for client you will have to bring these items into your equation. Personally, I take these items and put them on my blank page.
With these two items, I can create my header and set my color for the set. Yes, I know it says prosaic but the fact of the matter is you have to deal with things that you cannot change.
What you need to do is realize what you have to use and build around those with intuition and blazing ideas. This said it is good to find something innovative.
Personally, what I do is go into the collection of ideas I have made over the years. Over time, I have collected together some ideas that I always wanted to explore, and this collection grows continually. I am curious as to how certain things work, and I like to try out at least one on each website I work on. Some don’t work out well, but if you don’t try you won’t succeed.
You don’t want to copy someone else’s design in any way. However, at the same time they can give you inspiration. You don’t want to recycle your own websites over and over again, but it can be useful to use them as a foundation for the new site almost like a CMS. This can save an enormous amount of time as most of your testing has already been done.
Sometimes it takes the little things to get our creative juices flowing so rather than start with the layout try starting with the favicon. These small items can at times set the whole flavor of the website.
I tend to work one of two ways. Either I set up the whole basic principle with a wire framed layout, or I start with the small itty bitties. I have found that starting with the small stuff often leads to a far more inspired website and gives me far more satisfaction. You get totally involved with the detail, and as a result the website seems to develop almost on its own. It is almost as if the website has a mind of its own and the spaces flow naturally. As you are working with a client’s basic structure you are incorporating this and developing from this. Somehow this provides really good cohesion. Even though it can feel restrictive to start with breaking it down into the little parts that you are given almost inspires you to be inventive.