So even though our development team is super busy, you'll see a series of small changes on LiveJournal that will make explaining LiveJournal to your friends a little easier. The first of these changes will be the home page when the visitor is logged out. It's our first impression for new visitors to the site, and we're pretty mysterious about who we are, and what we do.
Home pages are traditionally hard to design because they serve so many different types of people. As designers, we take into account the major types visitors, and why they may have come to that page.
1. People who already have accounts and want to login.
2. Curious people. They've heard of LiveJournal, but aren't sure what it is.
3. People who have been invited by their friends to join so they can see privacy restricted content. They might not have heard of LJ before.
4. People who are interested in it as an open source experiment.
5. People who visit localized versions of the site. LiveJournal is international, and anything we design would ideally be easily translatable.
We have to balance their needs with our own. Since we don't send out emails, we need to use the site as our primary way to tell users about the benefits of paid accounts, gift shop discounts, and interesting things that are happening on the site.
Typically, this means that as a designer, you need a lot of discipline to address these needs, prioritize them, and at the same time, make sure the page layout doesn't blow up. jamisononfire and veroz have done a great job in balancing those needs. I'll leave it to them to describe their thought process.