Day two of the FUSE Conference has wrapped, and I currently feel the sort of exhaustion brought on by the first day of classes of a new semester. In the good way. Allow me to explain.

I read a lot of blogs. I follow many people on Twitter. I attend meetups, and lectures, and chat with my industry pals whenever possible. It’s great. They’re not at all dummies, but occasionally, I do find myself missing the intellectual demands of my life as a college student (and grad student). Intelligence, by most traditional definitions, is shoved into the background of day-to-day agency life, where the smarts of a designer (or strategist, or account exec) is usually anecdotal. So I welcome the return of the smart-guys to the design business. I’m glad to see so many of our speakers with PhDs and hear from published authors who didn’t simply compile magazine covers into a coffee-table book (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The day started with Andrew Pek analysing our brains. Getting us to strive for enlightenment in our innovation. Shouting exercises and the throwing of crumpled paper can be just as stimulating as any math problem, if only because it’s new. Andrew is a smart guy.

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that our keynote speaker Dr. Michio Kaku is a smart guy. I thought it was funny how “creating a unified field theory” is just one of his accomplishments, with a whole list of accolades and endeavors to follow. Kaku’s talk helped bring us back to a science-minded future, thinking of how technology and innovations which are just around the corner can affect our practice and business. We weren’t charged to pick up Einstein’s work where he left off, but we were, in a sense, charged with being part of the future, and understanding all that sciencey stuff.

A different kind of smarts is required when thinking about gender marketing, and how to bring a woman’s need into the building of a brand or the development of a product. I enjoyed hearing from Agnete Enga and Paulette Bluhm-Sauriol of Smart Design‘s Femme Den who challenged us to think about how so much of our design, branding, and marketing efforts are stupidly male-focused. Time to smarten up.

Aside from the need to get smarter, we designers need to be bolder. Simple, bold, consistent design was the key to Turner Duckworth‘s successful work with Coca-Cola and the driving force behind the creation of evr by Dragon Rouge. I sit writing this from the lounge at The Wit Hotel, itself a bold design, as presented by architect Jackie Koo.

A smart solution isn’t always an intricate solution. Simple can be smart, and it usually is. Boldness doesn’t have to disrupt, sometimes it fits right in, as if it was there all along. Gone are the days when the smartest guy in the room was also the shyest. Designers, it’s time be bold; time to be smart.