The Cool Signals of 2021 #case

// The Cool Signals of 2021.
09-02-2022, the Lab Team.

This was another difficult year. That is why it is important to continue our efforts to underline the main signals of innovation and shed some light into 2021 and the changes that it produced. We discussed, at length signals, from different sectors and themes, from digital reality to technology, from lifestyles to diversity. This year, the results clearly point to identities and gender. Our group has placed three signals at the top that deal with associated mindsets. The following elements list the results and part of the discussion. It is not supposed to be a totalizing list, but an effort to underlined important signals, their nature, meanings and impacts.


To start, our group has decided this year, via a Delphi inspired approach, to propose two signals for the top position in our list:

Pleasing – a pop and genderless cosmetics brand: As Daniela Nunes says, Harry Styles is “a little bit of everything”. In a changing market, which seeks to create new understandings about identities, the Pleasing brand appears, created by the artist. By moving away from the masculine-women pendular movement, Pleasing reinforces the importance of rethinking the role of practices related to beauty and masculinity. Pleasing questions the meaning of cosmetics in the daily routine and seeks to communicate the constant reconstruction of masculinity in contemporary times, showing that men paint nails and wear pearls. It’s for men, it’s for women, it’s for everyone. Pleasing is a statement, as it represents current agendas and encourages rethinking social canons. This cool sign is irreverent for touching on issues rooted in society and for dissolving barriers and structures that characterize a socially constructed way of thinking.

Tom Daley – from the Olympics to Knitting: Tom Daley, the high competition medalist sends a strong message and breaks preconceptions, after being seen in the stands of the Olympics knitting while following sports events. Winner of the gold medal in synchronized diving on the 10m platform, his images and videos circulated in the world press and were even highlighted in the official media of the Games organization, which promoted and publicized his Olympic cardigan. As our previous analysis highlighted, “The signal draws attention to a set of speeches that inspire and instigate a new vision. It not only puts into discussion the nature of the Olympic athlete, but also the identity concepts of masculinity. There is an articulation of the public figure, an influencer with an active position regarding the inclusion of different sexualities and masculinity roles, with practices (knitting) that are not conceived within the mainstream, but claim the fluidity of mental structures and gender categories”.


Superman, a new queer superhero: Jon Kent, the son of Lois Lane and Clark Kent was revealed to be bisexual in “Superman: Son of Kal-El #5” from DC Comics. As the writer Tom Taylor underlined: “Superman’s symbol has always stood for hope, for truth and for justice. Today, that symbol represents something more. Today, more people can see themselves in the most powerful superhero in comics”. This is one of several signals that highlight a pattern, as The Washigton Post added: “at DC, Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, came out in 2012. In August, Tim Drake, the Robin of the 1990s and the third of four Boy Wonders to fight alongside Batman, was revealed to be bisexual. Aquaman ally Jackson Hyde, a.k.a. Aqualad, is gay. Harley Quinn, perhaps DC’s most popular character right now, has had love for the Joker and her fellow femme fatale Poison Ivy. Marvel LGBTQ characters include America Chavez; Wiccan, who’s the son of the Scarlet Witch; and X-Men members Ice-Man and Northstar”. It is a signal of inclusivity and diversity that underlines the importance that superheroes have on mindsets and the way we see and understand the world.


Human One by Beeple: Human One is a hybrid digital/physical artwork by artist Beeple, consisting of an NFT (Non Fungible Token) and a video sculpture. The work illustrates “the first human born in the metaverse”, an astronaut who walks through ever-changing landscapes. Human One is a work in progress, whose landscape changes every 24 hours and will be updated during the artist’s lifetime. It was sold in November last year for $28,959,000, which gave it the title of 2nd most expensive NFT work of 2021. The work stands out for the fact that it merges contemporary topics such as the metaverse, NFT and space exploration, in addition to combining the characteristics of hybridity and permanent change, which reflect the spirit of the times.

Inspiration4 – the first orbital civilian missionInspiration4 was SpaceX’s first space tourism mission and the first 100% civilian orbital mission in human history. The mission was funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who took with him three other unknown civilians on a three-day adventure in orbit above the International Space Station (ISS). One of the astronauts was the physician assistant, Hayley Arcenaux, a child cancer survivor and the first female astronaut with a prosthetic component on the leg. The mission raised funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,  whose mission is to find cure to pediatric câncer and other diseases. One of the mission’s communication strategies was the release of docu-series “Countdown: Inspiration4 mission to space”. The episodes were released on Netflix before, during and after the mission took place. Inspiration4 stood out if compared to other space tourism initiatives in 2021, for its innovative, inspiring and philanthropic features.

Captain Kirk in Space: At the age of 90, William Shatner, renowned for his role as Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek saga, traveled to space for the first time aboard a Blue Origin rocket. In October 2021, he and three other civilians starred in this launch planned by American magnate Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and who had already been a crew member of the first rocket a few months earlier. This cool signal brings together cultural icons and popular imaginaries of yesterday and today, in a year marked by global interest and investment in space, from science and technology, or space tourism and audiovisual production, between reality and fiction.


ABBAtars explores the idea of public events with programmed holograms of the iconic Swedish pop band ABBA’s own artists. It all starts in 2021 with the announcement of the band’s return, the release of new songs from the Voyage album, as well as music videos and a publicity campaign for the shows for 2022, where holographic images of the musicians with their 1979 appearances will be accompanied on stage by real musicians. This signal considers crosses between: memory, retro, pop, art, technology, reality and fiction, cultural icons, branding, consumption and marketing, among others.

Ariana Grande concert in FortniteAriana Grande’s concert on the video game platform Fortnite, in August 2021, consolidated the game as a new “must have” stop on the tours of artists with worldwide projection. Unlike other concerts on the platform, such as the Marshmello show (2019) and the Travis Scott show (2020), Ariana Grande’s event transcended the musical experience, combining immersive moments typical of electronic games with the presentation. The concert was preceded by blocks of interactive “psychedelic” experiences that – despite being different from the guerrilla environment of Fortnite – were well incorporated into the game, in a way that complements the main narrative. This is an example that provides clues and anticipates possibilities of the much talked Metaverse.

Facebook goes Meta: The idea of the Metaverse itself is not new, it has been present in Science Fiction for 30 years, among other references, and in recent decades it has already influenced experiments such as the Gather Town. However, we know how social networks and Facebook have been influencing the digitalization and virtuality of our reality on a global level, and that’s why this cool signal is relevant enough to be mentioned. When we talk about the group adopting this name, what is behind it is a systemic movement at the industry level – technological, financial, cultural and others – as the possibilities of commercialization, editing and interaction in this “new form of internet” are profoundly rethought. We are talking about Marketplace, digital currencies, VR, NFTs and other innovations developed or promoted through Meta.

Equality Check is a platform/service that aims to facilitate the meeting between people and companies committed to causes that defend a more egalitarian world: diversity and inclusion. In a “Best Places to Work” style, it collects anonymous testimonials from employees and managers, creates a community among these people, analyzes companies and even provides consulting services to help them be more diverse and inclusive. This cool signal represents a larger movement where we see services, consultancies, methodologies and certifications increasingly emerging to guide companies to fulfill their purposes inside, outside and beyond the business itself. The growth potential of this mindset is very big, as the Z and Alpha generations will demand transparency and commitment from all organizations and brands they want to work with, interact or even consume from now on.


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