Image by Karl Finn

Five words that defined 2020, and the five you will need to know in 2021.


  • Coronavirus: though first reported in 2019 (earning it the name COVID-19), the global pandemic rapidly turned 2020 into a year like no other.
  • Pivot: from major brands to local businesses, this year prompted every organisation to reappraise its business model, consider “phygital” services, and adapt messaging accordingly.
  • Antitrust: international calls to limit the powers of social media and tech giants through regulation intensified this year, particularly concerning their power to spread or stifle information relating to the 2020 US presidential election.
  • Net-zero: in the year that the World Economic Forum declared “affluence” to be humanity’s single biggest threat, many world leaders and multinational corporations reaffirmed pledges to cutting carbon emissions, waste and unsustainable business practices.
  • Allyship: 2020 has also been a year of activism and protest, denouncing anti-Black racism and transphobia. Chana Ginelle Ewing, founder of diverse beauty platform GEENIE, calls it a “power shift” that is here to stay. Seeing through “inauthentic or public relations-driven statements,” consumers are now demanding authenticity and action.


  • Ambient intelligence: advances in machine learning and the advent of 5G will give rise to physical spaces and devices able to sense and learn from the behaviour of humans.
  • Convenience: during lockdown, customers became reliant on one-day deliveries and next-door amenities. Ease and expediency will continue to shape shopping habits into 2021. Expect to see more “20-minute cities” where all services can be accessed on foot or by bicycle.
  • Neuromarketing: developments in brain science, “neurotechnology” and growing numbers of neurodiverse authors and TV characters. From purchasing choices to workplace productivity, interest in how behaviours can be modified by analysing brain activity and hormones is growing.
  • Belonging: going beyond diversity statements and engagement strategies, from internal hiring policies to public brand acts, leading brands are beginning to foster a sense of community and belonging.
  • Friluftsliv: the pandemic led to a renewed appreciation of the safety and sanctuary of outdoor spaces, particularly in urban areas. Friluftsliv, the Nordic concept of celebrating “outdoor life” even in the coldest months, will linger into 2021. Think plenty more outdoor art, mobile amenities like food trucks and, as Pinterest foretold, rewilding.

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Karl Finn

Writer in London. Currently run events at Google, formerly V&A and Sotheby’s. Founder of Predictedit, a newsletter bringing together trends, research and ideas.