The greatest single feature of Wordpress is how easily it can be customized. As a matter of fact, you've probably been on websites that you did not even realize were powered by Wordpress. WP is much more than a blogging platform. It can be a full-blown CMS. All it takes is some elbow grease.
With that in mind, the other great thing about Wordpress is open-source coding.
I'll go out on a limb and say that 90% of the functions, designs, and layouts you want for your Wordpress site already exist somewhere else. If you want it, chances are that someone has already made it happen.
When creating your template, do not reinvent the wheel.
My advice is to find a prebuilt template that accomplishes the majority of what you want on your site. It does not have to be exactly what you want, just somewhat in the neighborhood.
Get that template in your hands (either paid or free), and use it as your "launch pad."
Next, go out and find the missing elements that you want. Perhaps there's a cool way of displaying author information in your Wordpress posts, or a snazzy photo gallery function. Just go out there and find it.
Then try to figure out how it was built.
If the template was built by a design shop, head over to that shop and see if you can buy the template.
You can also head over to the Wordpress support forums. They are free and can often tell you exactly how to achieve a certain function.
Take those cherry picked items back to your site and incorporate them into the template you previously purchased. Often, it is as easy as copy/pasting some code and doing some light weight CSS work.
That should cover 90% of your design needs right there. The remaining 10% will be what you have to build out from scratch.
Instead of building 80% or 100% of your template by hand, you've just cut the workload drastically. Now you can focus your energy on those totally unique customizations instead of stuff that has been built 100 times over by other developers.
If you have taken the plunge and hired developer to help you, the same exercise will come in handy. Get out there and look for the things that you want to have on your site. Find designs you like. Share all of this information with your developer, and it will make their life easier. You will get what you are looking for much quicker if the developer has samples to work from.