I have used many launchers in the past including Launcher 8 and Smart Launcher. However I prefer Apex Launcher over the latter because of the simplicity of the applications UI and the ability to customize down to the size of icons. I am currently running Apex Launcher and it doesn't seem to drain battery more than other launchers I have tested. Here are some of my home screens.
I went for a minimalistic look and used the option to disable the notification bar and dock. The notification bar can be accessed by a fast swipe down and the app drawer (also customizable) can be accessed by a fast swipe up. I used ZooperWidget for many of my widgets and SMPL White icons for ditching the colored app icons.
As for the locker I installed Holo Locker which gives a very clean look to the phone.
The paid version can be customized to show SMS and call notifications and I believe you need it to change to shortcuts as well.
All these apps can be found on the Play Store SMPL White icons and Holo Locker being the only paid ones. Using these two together gives the device a very sleek look. I would recommend them to anyone who is looking to improve upon stock UI without rooting!