The Annual 2021: Trends and observations

Last year was dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but we also saw a number of other trends and developments emerge in the commercial creative industries. Here, we examine what they might suggest for the future

Welcome to this year’s Annual – our opportunity to look back at a year of creative endeavour. It’s always fun to flick through an awards magazine or website, to see if your favourite work of the year has made it onto the list, and if there’s anything exciting and interesting that you might have somehow missed among the deluge of creative work that is released each year. But what is perhaps most useful is to explore what trends in creative or design thinking can be gleaned from each year’s crop of winners, and to examine what directions we are all moving in, and what might possibly be coming next.

The past year and a half has of course been dramatically overshadowed by one key global event: the Covid-19 pandemic. Words like ‘unprecedented’ have been overused, but this time the clichés are all true, with the pandemic dramatically upending our daily lives and work routines, and also highlighting just how many of our modern ways of life we had been taking for granted – from being able to pop to a restaurant or shop, to nipping away on a mini break, to our kids being allowed to go to school.

The pandemic has been devastating for many in the creative industries, particularly those in the events or hospitality sectors, and for freelancers. And those of us with more stable set-ups within companies that have been able to work from home have still had to adjust to a totally new way of working, remote from our peers and colleagues. 

Artwork by Mark Titchner, created for the art initiative Your Space or Mine by the Build Hollywood media group; Above: Cover for the New York Times Magazine shot by Philip Montgomery

The impact of the constant changing of the rules on businesses has been well documented, but what the pandemic has also proven is just how much the creative industries have also risen to the challenges presented by it, with companies successfully shifting online or finding new ways to reach customers despite the restrictions, in order to stay afloat. There has also been an outpouring of artworks and ideas responding to it, especially in the initial few months of lockdown, when the public took to social media to share their advice, fears and hopes about what was happening.

Despite the many, many think pieces there have been on how Covid-19 will affect us all in the longer term, we still remain in the dark as to what the real ‘new normal’ will look like. What seems likely is that flexible working will remain with us, raising fascinating questions about how our offices might be reshaped, or how city life will begin to look different if people opt to live further afield and work more from home. 

And while most of us are desperate (desperate!) to go to an exhibition, or a gig or a play in real life again, it seems certain that events will continue to have a virtual aspect to them in the future too. This is most likely in the industry talks circuit, which has always been prohibitively expensive for many – surely it makes sense for these events to allow the option for someone to listen in virtually in the future, if they can’t attend in the flesh.

But beyond the all-encompassing shadow of coronavirus, what other trends and changes can we spot among the Winners and Honourable Mentions in the CR Annual this year?