I'm having a blast with the demo, however i have one problem: no matter what i try, i get absolutely shredded! Anything i can read to give me tips on fleet deployment and construction?
First, don't be afraid to customize ship types. The basic ships will get you through the first few missions just fine, but you can do better by customizing. In most scenarios, you'll want a good balance of capital ships, frigates, and fighters. To my mind, the key is to look at the enemy and respond. Fighters are almost always useful (especially in the later scenarios), though they do take a while to bring down the big boys. If your opponent is heavy on capital ships, for example, you're going to want bombers instead or go with capital ships with heavy weapons. Pilot count will hold you back from going fighter crazy in the early game, but that will change with time.
The mid-range frigate/cruiser ships are where a lot of the action is going to occur. A pack of the smaller ships can take down the larger capital ships surprisingly quickly, particularly if you equip them intelligently. I'm probably fighter/cruiser heavy in most of my builds, sticking with just a couple of capital ships at the rear to lend heavy fire support and soak up damage.
Beyond hull choice, though, is where the real variation comes into play: choice of armament. A number of players like the "beam boat" strategy, where your goal is to stock a bunch of ships with nothing but energy weapons. That can be a really effective strategy until you run into heavily shielded ships with missiles or other longer ranged weapons that can blow you to bits before you can get to them. You'll want to think carefully about range with your force composition--particularly if you're going the "beam boat" route (which will require those ships to be at the front line where they're hit first).
The great thing about the game is its flexibility. For example, after I got wasted in a couple of the missions halfway through the game, I designed a couple of new ship types: a longer range artillery frigate and some very cheap but heavily shielded EMP frigates. Just adding a few of these to my fleet totally changed the balance of power. The artillery frigates just kept pounding away from the rear with long range weapons while the front-line EMP frigates would keep the enemy fire control systems suppressed. It really cut down on the amount of damage my enemy could do while ensuring that my "beam boats" (filled with proton cannons and lasers) could get close enough to shred them with impunity. Oh, and the squadrons of fighters didn't hurt at all either (grin).
In short, try varying up your design, think about the synergies that the different weapons/ship designs bring to the picture, keep range and layout in mind (the ships at the front are probably going to die first, so don't base all your tactics on them or make them tanks), and you'll start winning more battles. The real trick, in my view, is to figure out how to maximize the honor gains, and I'm not very good at that yet :/