We've all encountered sites that look great and do amazing tricks, but don't really work all that well. On the other end of the spectrum there is – well, Google, for one. Somewhere in-between is the right solution for us.
A web designed named Joshua Porter examine all this in an interesting post entitled Do Canonical Web Designs Exist? Here's a taste:
The first answer would indeed be Google. Google has, for nearly ten years, provided the best search engine on the Web. It is the standard by which all other search engines are compared. In the exact same way that Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway map has affected the design of subway maps since, Google has affected the design of search engines. I know design teams that have copied the search results pages of Google almost exactly simply because it was the design that Google used.
I also know a tremendous number of web designers who look to the spartan Google homepage as inspiration that great tools don’t need complex interfaces.