When clients want a more robust website, rather than just a blog, the sidebar has got to go, and navigation must go where people expect. Page Templates let you take your base layout options and play.
Taking a design into WordPress can be sped up by using frameworks like SASS/LESS/COMPASS. This lets you hierarchically describe the design, and then have that description interpreted into CSS.
- Start with the default themes (twenty-ten, twenty-eleven)
- Trim unnecessary content out of the theme files (header.php, page.php).
Connect to CDN’s for your scripts (jQuery). A browser will likely have these scripts cached from visiting other sites, and a browser can make parallel connections to multiple servers rather than possibly hit a connection limit against a single server (yours). Use Google Libraries handles it for you.
Plugin to aid CSS modification: CSS