The Artless Website:

The design of proves that smart, in the age of new media, is more substance than style.

Design is not the first thing you think of when you enter into the Charles Schwab website. Save for a pulse-taking graph of the latest market figures and a blue pinstriped banner at the top, the homepage of this top-rated Internet brokerage is almost exclusively, but not overwhelmingly, text. The banner contains six businesslike file-tab interface links to sections on accounts and services, investments, mutual funds and other similar business headings. What's quickly communicated here is financial information, pure and simple. For a company that sees its retail investors trade over $2 billion in securities each week, brains—and ease of use—are definitely more important than beauty.

It is perhaps just those attributes that landed the site, which was designed by the Web standard-setting firm Razorfish, in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum's inaugural National Design Triennial. Included in the exhibition next to the crisp homeyness of Martha Stewart's hallmark packaging and page layouts, Razorfish's Schwab work seems jarringly tame. Yet its presence in that kind of company signals a paradigmatic shift in the way design enters into the public realm and is evaluated in a cultural moment dominated by Web commerce.

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First published in Gain 1.0: AIGA Journal of Design for the Network Economy.