Expert Outlook 2021

Canvas8 talks about the now. But we know – especially in times of uncertainty – that our clients like to look into the future.

Every year, we build them a crystal ball full of authoritative voices, industry expertise, and Canvas8 analysis to uncover the key behaviours to watch out for. In our seventh installment of the Expert Outlook, we’ve pulled together 50 expert interviews, 15 reports, and one overarching theme to help you prepare for 2021.

Make Believe

2020 turned reality on its head. Between COVID-19, global protests, an ongoing climate disaster, and a divisive US election, so much was ‘unprecedented’ that people grew sick of the word. The limits of what we know (and presume) to be true have been tested and broken.

Seeing first-hand that the world can look different, people are ditching established norms and are reshaping how they live in accordance with their personal values. But not everyone’s vision is the same. In 2021, we will rebuild the world and define a new reality – the ‘new normal’. But what’s not clear yet is whose truth will win.

How we got here

From the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to readjust their lives to defend against the virus to widespread protests raising awareness of systemic injustices, the events of 202 have made people question previously accepted truths and societal structures.

Sensemaker Framework

To help brands and businesses prepare for the new realities of 2021, we’ve created the Sensemaker Framework. It introduces four key audience mindsets that are set to shape 2021. Built to be dynamic, it’ll help you generate ideas and strategies that are responsive to evolving audience needs throughout the year.

Key Agendas for 2021
To understand the wider context around behaviours that will impact 2021, we’ve created four Agendas exploring the Cultural, Economic, Environment, and Political shifts to look out for next year.
In 2020, COVID-19 brought a momentary sense of unity as the world tried to get to grips with the pandemic. But a year of lockdowns, job losses, global protests, and divisive politics means that a lot of people are going into 2021 with uncertainty and anxieties hanging over them. As social inequality, misinformation, and climate disasters continue to dominate the cultural conversation, people will look to brands to offer more than helpful gestures and entertaining distractions.

Virtual Adaptations

People will continue to embrace the convenience of digital cultureFrom live-streamed concerts and synced-up Netflix binges to weekly sports, COVID-19 forced cultural experiences online. In 2021, people will continue to experiment with digital channels for everything from escapism to networking to protesting, and cultural forms will further mutate even after ‘normal’ play resumes.

Party Time

People will continue to embrace the convenience of digital cultureFrom live-streamed concerts and synced-up Netflix binges to weekly sports, COVID-19 forced cultural experiences online. In 2021, people will continue to experiment with digital channels for everything from escapism to networking to protesting, and cultural forms will further mature even after 'normal' play resumes.

Family Home

People will continue to embrace the convenience of digital cultureFrom live-streamed concerts and synced-up Netflix binges to weekly sports, COVID-19 forced cultural experiences online. In 2021, people will continue to experiment with digital channels for everything from escapism to networking to protesting, and cultural forms will further mature even after 'normal' play resumes

Deep Dives

People will continue to embrace the convenience of digital cultureFrom live-streamed concerts and synced-up Netflix binges to weekly sports, COVID-19 forced cultural experiences online. In 2021, people will continue to experiment with digital channels for everything from escapism to networking to protesting, and cultural forms will further mature even after 'normal' play resumes.
In the first half of 2020, as countries confronted COVID-19 outbreaks, economies were almost universally uprooted. In 2021, as the promise of viable vaccines looks set to stabilise both the literal and economic health of the globe, there is the hope of positive recovery. As a hesitant confidence returns and people begin to shape their lives in a post-pandemic environment, some will be looking to let off financial steam, while instability will continue for others.

Local Investments

People will spend their money closer to homeAs remote working continues long term, people's wallets could be redirected to more localised centres. New spending moments may see people focus on home comforts and result in a rejuvenation of high streets amid a newfound desire to support local businesses.

Economic Indulgences

People will want to spend on everything they missed in the previous yearAs vaccines are developed and people feel confident venturing out, a desire to make up for lost time may lead them to splash out on the things they missed in 2020. For brands, this may create an opportunity to encourage customers to treat themselves.

Imbalanced Recovery

While some will rush to spend once restrictions ease, others will remain cautiousThe imbalanced economic impact of COVID-19 means that some people and businesses will be slower to regain financial confidence. For many, 2021 will continue to present hardships, meaning that brands may need to be mindful of the varied experiences of their customers.

Sustainable Structures

People will look to interlink economy and sustainability2020 created an opportunity to reset, and one consideration is how sustainability commitments are interwoven into economic planning. As people prioritise eco-friendly purchases, they will expect governments to shape meaningful approaches to the climate crisis while considering the long-term economic implications of those changes.
Protests, political misinformation, and the pandemic – 2020 has been defined by urgency, precarity, and anxiety. It saw people stand up for social issues – allyship was recognised as vital to racial equality, brands’ performative gestures became transparent, and in light of the infodemic, people began scrutinising what they read and heard. With people increasingly expecting brands to speak out against injustices, inaction could lead to brand disloyalty in 2021.

Kinder Capitalism

People will want capitalism to better serve them and their communitiesIn the face of police brutality, political misinformation, and COVID-19, people grew weary of capitalist systems in 2020. Wise to social issues – and how brands must structurally and financially respond – people will cast a critical eye over capitalism and look for more equitable, kinder futures.

Eat the Elite

People will continue to protest inequalities and demand actionEconomic inequality has caused mass frustration with the global elite, and when COVID-19 caused the wealth of the 1% to surge, a touchpaper was lit. Tired of nepotism and inequality, people will call out injustices and push for action in 2021, turning to brands for assistance in their endeavours.

Playful Participation

People will want to engage with citizenship in innovative waysWhen it comes to political processes, people are feeling discouraged. As traditional systems of governance start feeling out-of-touch and dated, people could start entertaining political innovations in 2021. While governments could reshape participatory structures, brands can play with engaging people politically.

Trusted Leaders

People will want democracy to work betterThe polarised discourse and political misinformation that have been omnipresent through 2020 have left people wanting democracy to live up to its definition. Against this backdrop, calls are mounting for Big Tech firms to better protect democracy and strengthen their position against bad actors.
The Australian wildfires may have dominated public attention at the start of 2020, but COVID-19 pushed climate change out of the disaster spotlight for most of the year. Yet having seen just how much progress is possible in a moment of crisis, campaigners and citizens will push for more drastic measures from institutions and businesses going forward, and they will have even less patience for green-washing.

Climate Literacy

People will seek stories that help them understand the climate crisisClimate change is such a huge issue that, often, only the clearest stories cut through. With people unsure of how to tackle the issue, brands can play a role in telling powerful, educational stories that help to close the climate literacy gap.

Holistic Critics

People will think more broadly about their environmental impactBrands and businesses are responding to concerns about the climate crisis, but with consumers becoming more informed about the complex nature of their impact on the environment, they’re demanding that companies do the same – green-washing will not fly.

Intersectional Environments

People will consider sustainability issues in the context of social justiceHistoric discrimination means that Black and indigenous people and other communities of colour are often the most impacted by environmental issues. In 2021, there will be greater pressure on brands to ensure they consider the social, racial, and economic context and ramifications of their climate initiatives.

Natural Habitats

People will look for ways to amp up their rewildingIn 2020, with the world moving at a slower speed, people had more time to appreciate the natural world. As the desire to engage with green spaces grows, brands have an opportunity to facilitate rewilding experiences.
15 Sectors to ExploreDive into our Reports and Expert Themes to uncover the key behaviours that will impact brands in 2021, and understand the nuances in how Make Believe is manifesting in different industries.


Alice Ratcliffe

Alice Ratcliffe is head of brand and a founding team member at Appear Here, a leading marketplace for pop-up retail spaces.

Branding in beauty is shifting from aiming for a perpetuated beauty ideal to how a group of people can identify with this product and company. People are demanding to feel seen and heard within marketing and advertising.



Aja Witt

Aja Witt is a teaching assistant at the University of Iowa and her research focuses on race, culture, and mental health. She will be featured in the 2021 edition of Black Camera regarding Samantha N. Sheppard’s Sporting Blackness.

This could be a great time for restructuring and rethinking work - an experimental stage. What are the most prioritised elements of work in our society and how can they be done better?



Leslie Mac

Digital strategist
During COVID-19, Fashion Week wasn't much of anything, so it did feel like fashion's structure is being pushed. People are questioning the structure of fashion and asking 'why do we need this?'



Xinyuan Wang

Research fellow at UCL’s Department of Anthropology
I imagine that, in the future, the moral judgement of whether you value this relationship being so tightly associated with what kind of communication tool you use will be revalued.

Eating and Drinking


Lydia Richards

Founder, Vino Concierge
People are trying to not just buy but shop and will be really conscious about the decisions they're making. And because they have a lot more time on their hands, they really research what they're spending their precious dollars on.

Fashion and Style


Kimberly Jenkins

Founder, The Fashion and Race Database
Some people are angry and resentful because they feel like their voice isn't heard so clothing is a space where they can be self-governed.

Getting Around


John Surico

Research fellow, Center for an Urban Future
Micro-mobility, cycling, e-scooters, it's all inherently socially distanced. In 2021, we'll see a surge of activity as people turn to these 'safer', isolated mobility options.

Health and Fitness


Anita Mitra

Author of The Gynae Geek
Having painful sex is not something we need to put up with. It's OK to want to feel pleasure and it's OK to have sex on your own. I have welcomed people discussing women's pleasure more during lockdown and it's something we should be watching for in 2021.

Home and Relationships


Katherine Twamley

Associate Professor of Sociology
In 2021, we'll see the digital world become even more central to family life. The pandemic has accelerated digital literacy across all age ranges - from young children, whose parents have relied more on screens to keep them educated and entertained during the pandemic, to grandparents, who have embraced video-conferencing tools to stay in touch with their families.



Florine Eppe Beauloye

Founder of Luxe Digital
To engage with their modern audiences, luxury brands thus need to refocus on their inner essence to craft authentic meaning that is culturally relevant, soulful and sensitive to what's truly important in the here and now.

Media and Entertainment

Will Page

Will Page was formerly the chief economist at Spotify and PRS for Music, where he pioneered Rockonomics. He is also the author of Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles for Pivoting through Disruption, in which he touches on topics like digital streaming.

Gaming is ten times what music is worth. And they never focused on monetization and they only ever focus on engagement for attention. So, if music streaming focuses on money, it's worth $10 billion. And if gaming focuses on attention it's worth $100 billion. It tells us something.



Laura Whateley

Author and journalist
Psychologically, not paying much cash and not thinking too much about paying means that it's harder to budget, and harder not to spend unthinkingly. There's an opportunity in 2021 for financial brands that can help add the friction back in, making it easier to manage money online.



Melissa Gonzalez

CEO of The Lion’esque Group
When it happens once, I don't think you can cause new behaviours - but with the duration of COVID-19 lasting so long, we're really seeing some reconditioning with consumers being innovative as they hunt out the most seamless and useful shopping formats.


Elodie Marteau

Elodie Marteau is a foresight strategist and co-founder of 2sight

People will want technology to be facilitating resilience in the next year. The very definition of resilience is how we mentally or emotionally cope with crisis. We can see this already happening in the ways that technologies are helping people become more durable in their relationships.

Travel and Leisure

Rue Mapp

Rue Mapp is the founder and chief operating officer of Outdoor Afro, a social network that connects African-American explorers to nature. She’s an influential voice and award-winning figure in the outdoor industry, known for her efforts to champion diversity and push for representation in the outdoors.

Connections to nature are more important than ever before. People are turning to the outdoors because we instinctively know that nature has something available for us to guide us towards healing.