I was recently asked, by a recruiter, to name a few sites that I think are well designed. This is my answer:
To me there are lots of ways of defining design. Purpose, Content, Interaction and Decoration are a few of many design aspects.
http://www.etsy.com/ — Etsy has accepted the noble quest of creating a global market place for handicraft. They thereby work to increase the interest in unique, handmade products (which is usually good for the environment) and also work to make it possible for more people to live off their creative enterprise (which is good for the individual and society). They have created a number of ways to explore the thousands of products on the site and they engage sellers to take ownership of their shop within Etsy. The site’s decorative elements are also well crafted—they set the focus on the products. Over $20 million has so far been invested in Etsy by Union Square Ventures, Accel Partners and others.
http://wave.google.com/ — I have one of the preview screen shot from Wave pinned to my wall at the office. I have not been able to use the service myself yet, but from what I have seen the wave team seem to be working hard with all the details that create good interaction. Both large aspects such as real time updates in conversations and personalization of the interface and details such as panel scrolling seem meticulously crafted.
http://www.gourmet.com/ & http://www.wired.com/ — Both of these Condé Nast sites are beautiful, useful and valuable but above all else they manage to engage my interest thanks to the use of different types of articles and (restrained) variation in layout and presentation.
http://www.drudgereport.com/ — Perhaps the worlds most poorly styled web site. But the fact that the Drudge Report has two to three million unique visitors per month and over a million dollars of profit per year despite having only two employees make the site excellently designed.