We brought the carrot back! It’s there on the current player: http://grabb.it/ We were totally amazed at how many people cried out for its restoration when we took it away, which, I suppose it a great example of your larger point of the value of visual/aesthetic joy to users.
As far as what I think of my own work in general? I’ve never claimed to be a great web designer, but I was an art major in college and I definitely care deeply about the aesthetics of the sites I’ve worked on. Part of the move from the comic book-colored grabb.it to the current more minimal one was a desire to take on a style that was maybe more within our limited abilities to execute well. We were very inspired by http://ffffound.com/ in that redesign which is very clean and minimal but in a way that somehow inspires you to avidly click around to new content in a way that we were trying to inspire on Grabb.it.
Also, the main set of graphic design skills that I do have come from my background in newspaper work. Until the last few years, though, I didn’t know how to apply that work to the web. My newspaper eye had always felt that pretty much everything on the web was hideously ugly, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until I came across The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web: http://www.webtypography.net/ which is a translation of a typographical classic that all newspaper and book designers study to CSS and web technologies. Reading that I had the revelation that web design should be oriented around making reading easier on the eyes and that it absolutely should take advantage of the six hundred years of experience that are encapsulated in the best wisdom of typographers and book designers. All the crap I had to study in my newspaper days about baseline rhythm and the grid can be used on the web to acheive at least a basic level of non-crappiness even by people without brilliant graphic design sense. Obviously, web apps are more complicated multi-use texts than newspapers, but the rules of good typography can still go a really long way to helping you make things look clean and organized in a way that is the entry point for becoming beautiful. The recent projects I’ve done design for have focused on that quite a bit (an early prototype of the Grabb.it pay site: http://go.grabb.it and the current in-progress one: http://trackspress.com [often down due to work we’re doing; this is not launched yet] ) and I’ve been really happy with the improvements I’ve gotten in the results.
One practical tip I’d give any coder looking to use the principles of good typography to improve their designs without having to take a deep dive down into typographical theory would be to use the open source Blueprint CSS library: http://code.google.com/p/blueprintcss/ It’s a toolkit that makes it really easy to acheive the basics of good typography and to even do somewhat sophisticate mult-column layouts. Blueprint CSS + a few good art elements will make your site seem well-deigned even if you don’t trust your own aesthetic taste too strongly.