City Limits: Top 10

A look back at our favourite picks from Crowd DNA’s City Limits series – now celebrating its 10th issue – and the cultural insights that are still playing out in urban life…

It’s a truism that cities move at a uniquely fast pace. For our ongoing City Limits reports about what’s happening in urban scenes around the world, our writers, videographers and researchers report on those fast-moving moments in (almost) real time.

The Crowd DNA team has produced these reports since 2018, bringing data to life with cultural stories, infographics, trends features, video and case studies. We’ve done issues focused on themes like mobility, the night economy, and small cities, and our tenth report has just been released on the LA sports scene ahead of two major sporting events in the city.

City Limits LA Sports download it here.

The video launch of the City Limits series in 2018

It’s a great time to look back on the City Limits series, to jump off from the stories and think about where the trends, passion points and emerging cultures are moving next. After all, some have become even bigger than we might have expected. Here’s our top ten articles from over the years…


1.Our first issue in November 2018 put the spotlight on how brands can combat urban loneliness. Research was showing that people experienced it more living in cities – and still do. We looked at how we are Living Alone, Together and where the urban empty spaces are being used as a backdrop to tell stories about the contemporary human experience in entertainment and branding.


2.We took a ride into the future of urban mobility for our second issue (Dec, 2018). Nearly five years later, and cities have really embraced multimodality. We have so many ways of getting from A to B today – with e-scooters, e-bikes, e-mopeds, and car-sharing. The issue also included an exploration of migration and urban movement, and how culture and brands are telling this story, from mapping diversity to social healing.


3.Our City Limits reports are also an opportunity to look backwards, as we did in an article in our third issue on Youth (March, 2019). Subcultures & The City chronicled where and how youth culture has claimed space over five decades, in swimming pools or whole districts. We also talk to young people in London and New York about their everyday – and how it might look in their tomorrows…


4.There are subjects that we feel compelled to return to, too. Our fourth City Limits about Solutions for a better future explored the divisive issues that impact on city culture – and still do. We analysed five cities around the world and what they are doing to reduce the damage done by the negative effects of gentrification: sustainable, affordable and community-led initiatives.


5.And of course we talk to people. Lots of people. In 2019, we interviewed Millennial Volunteers to find out what the new generation of volunteers care about, and what motivates them to give up their time: like Courtnee – who gives her time to the Hackney Night Shelter and speaks to a resurgence in volunteering in the UK – and who lives by the motto, ‘be the change you want to see’.



6.Our cities have seen a lot of change since we began the series – no more so than the last three following the pandemic. Yet research for our sixth issue on Retail Therapy in 2021 led us to heartening stories. One of this was how local has become so important, so we spoke to retailers in cities across APAC to hear what lessons ‘big’ brands can learn from the ‘little’ guys.


7.The City Limits series is made with input from all our specialisms. In the fifth issue about the City At Night, our semiotics team looked at how a city cloaked in darkness provides a whole new world of signs and symbols for brands to play with, and the team decoded the semiotics of the night – mythical adventures, heightened senses and the cloak of darkness – used in campaigns.


8.We know that music is the cultural life blood of cities – but there is nuance to that. Back in 2021, the seventh issue explored how second tier cities create music scenes in Durban, Hobart and China’s ancient city of Xi’an – highlighting the challenger spirit of smaller cities, and how it’s where a new sound can size contributes to the way it can embed itself quickly.


9.In the eighth issue on Destination Cities (May 2021), we felt ready to take some stock on city experiences during the pandemic. One of our stories was about a brief window in the summer of 2021, when city dwellers found themselves ambling through the empty rooms of world-class galleries that normally pack in thousands of tourists a day. We asked: what are the lasting effects of this eerie interlude?




Cities are continually recreated by the people who live in them, and our ninth issue on Super Food told this through looking at how urban diasporas use the culture of food to create their home from home. And what drinks reveal about the spirit of cities around the world – from Cologne to La Crosse.


Thanks for reading, we’ve certainly enjoyed making these reports. And are excited to see where we’ll end up next…

Our outputs and stories are made to inspire and invite. It’s just one of the ways we create culturally charged commercial advantage. Contact to learn more.

City Limits Is 10!

Andy Crysell, Crowd DNA’s founder and CEO, celebrates our ongoing exploration of the ever-changing urban experience…

Back in September 2018, when we were putting our first City Limits together, we only had a one-off in mind. Five years on, ten issues down the line, we’re still at it. We now call it our ‘ongoing exploration of the ever changing urban experience’ and it feels like we’ve barely got started.

Looking back at the intro I wrote for that first issue and, aside from a nod to the long gone London alternative listings mag from whom we lifted the title, a few other things stand out. 

We remarked that it’s not by accident that we term our offices as Crowd DNA London, Crowd DNA Amsterdam and Crowd DNA New York – rather than UK, Netherlands and US. Singapore, Sydney, Stockholm and Los Angeles need adding to that list now – we’ve been busy – but the principle remains the same. It’s through cities that we find meaning. Not so much countries and the onerous patriotism that comes with them.

We talked about how, by Limits, we meant the extremes, the disruptions and the innovations – where city living might take us next. And that’s stayed our ambition over the subsequent issues. From tackling loneliness to revamping mobility; pushing against gentrification; revelling in the after dark; resetting tourism and learning how urban diasporas use the culture of food to create home from home. So many cities covered. So many stories told.

A particularly big story impacted on us somewhere around issue six. Covid came and, for a while there, we were told that cities were doomed. A relic of a different age. And so a bunch of people moved out of the cities… and then an even bigger bunch of people subsequently moved into them. 

Covid didn’t kill cities, then. Not even close. But it probably did accelerate a re-evaluation of what makes them good, and what makes them bad. Fairer cities, smaller cities, more sustainable cities, less segregated cities, thoroughly human cities – there is much to work at and, here at Crowd DNA, we hope to get to play our own small part (all city and placemaking RFPs gladly received!).

City Limits has featured fabulous contributions from so many of our team. When we talk about being an editorially-minded business, it’s a proof point of exactly that. It’s exciting to think where the next ten issues will take us…

Our own city story started in a small office in east London’s Shoreditch. You can now find us in seven cities (and counting)

And if you’d like some more city-centred reading in the meantime, here’s a few books worth checking:

Jane Jacobs |  The Death And Life Of Great American Cities

Writer and activist Jacobs’ 1961 book critiqued prevailing urban planning practices and advocated for a more people-centered and community-oriented approach to city design. A prime moment in the development of modern placemaking thinking.

Will Hermes | Love Goes To Buildings On Fire

There are countless good books about music and cities. But few intersect the themes quite like this one, named after Talking Heads’ first album. Hermes goes into ultra detail on how mid ‘70s New York City provided the mix of creativity and chaos to spawn six genres running in parallel and feeding off each other: punk, disco, hip-hop, minimalist classical, the loft jazz scene and Nuyorican salsa.

Iain Sinclair | London Orbital

A 127 mile on-foot circumnavigation of London’s unofficial border, the M25. Less about the motorway, though, than a cultural criticism of the urban sprawl. Sinclair’s psychogeography is about experiencing and navigating cities in more intuitive and creative ways.

Crowd Shortcuts – a quick chat about something that’s caught our attention. This week, perfume that helps us like our true complicated selves…

What’s that smell? It’s Harry Styles. He is soon to release a new fragrance that is said to be inspired by sex, and formulated to evoke smells of ‘skin on skin’.

The pop star certainly has a nose for a trend… And this ones for perfume not just as a blend of smells, more as a distillation of a person: their skin, in this case. Meanwhile, Phlurs’ Missing Person bottled the spirit of the co-founder Chriselle Lim as she went through a messy divorce. “Developing the scent with a fine fragrance perfumer, I described how I felt emotionally. I felt lonely and wanted to bottle something that would take me back to a time I felt secure,” explained Chriselle. Missing Person went viral on TikTok and caused users to weep. Or it can even be literally you – as with last year’s trend for #vabbing – using your vaginal secretions as a pheromone-charged perfume.

So bottle up ourselves, then spray it? Yes. It’s perfume that is inspired by our messy selves, whether our stories (as well as Missing Person, Phlur also does the storied, Not My Baby and Lost Cause) or our bodies (Harry Style’s ‘sex’ fragrance follows on from Gwyneth Paltrow’s This Smells Like My Vagina candle).

Any other message in this bottle? We have evolved from merely accepting the smell of real bodies taking part in real activities. It’s about being excited by, or attracted to our natural smells (it’s so good, we bottled it). Even places we usually tolerate body smells, like say in the sweaty club scene, have seen this taken up to a celebratory level. “This party stinks: That’s the point,” said a recent New York Times introduction to club nights called Pheromone, or the Laboratory that requires “no perfume” on entrance. Real smells – body odour, sex and sweat – have undergone a change from causing feelings of shame to thrills.

…and to satisfy a collective craving for intimacy? Not only is it an olfactory sensation that mimics our own body smells. It fits with a side of our lives that so many of us are opening up to – a spritz of authentic, and emotionally messy. We spray a perfume that mimics what we smell every day, rather than one that requires us to imagine running through a grassy meadow inhaling fresh, unpolluted air. We all know which of these scenarios is more likely right now.

TL;DR: There is no good or bad smell. Instead let’s be radically honest: Who hasn’t felt joy from a beery kiss or a sweaty hug on the dance floor? The time is ripe for letting all our stinks out, and enjoying it.

In a chaotic cultural landscape, Crowd’s Rachel Rapp and Amy Nicholson present three mindsets that create opportunity in uncertainty…

The last few years have been turbulent across the globe. From climate paralysis and political fatigue, to the cost-of-living crisis and the impact of AI, chaos has become the new normal. Finding what’s good in permacrisis – Collins’s Dictionary word of the year, 2022 – can feel overwhelming.

Luckily, at Crowd DNA, we’re partial to a bit of chaos. As our fundamental human needs shift in response to uncertainty, how we interact with brands also changes, and we think that creates opportunity. Using trends analysis, semiotics and conversations with our KIN network, we’ve identified three mindsets that brands can adopt to make sense of the mayhem. These are: hand holding, distracting, or embracing uncertainty. 

You can get a taste of how to execute against each mindset below. It’s our introduction to how brands can show up for consumers in these incalculable times. There are certainly more mindsets out there to be defined – but we hope these begin to inspire you to think about what’s right for your brand. 

Three Mindsets To Meet Shifting Human Behaviour In Uncertain Times

1. Hand Holding 

Hand holding plays into our human needs for comfort and security. The trick is to offer reassurance and stability by grounding your brand’s touch points with scenes of everyday reality, universal experiences and simple language. While we typically see hand holding in fintech, banking and insurance (industries that are looking to support consumers during the cost-of-living crisis), we’re now seeing brands from other categories presenting themselves as reassuring and stable, too.

Hand Holding: How To…

_Dial up references to familiar rituals. We see this mindset in the Food Love Stories campaign from UK supermarket chain Tesco, emphasising everyday realities – eg a family barbecue. Meanwhile, at London Fashion Week, Burberry took over a London cafe to serve up comfort food (a surprising collision of egg and chips and designer fashion). Both brands are speaking to the need for security through relatability. 

_Incorporate community values and the idea of coming together. The Levi’s 2023 campaign was about people gathering at a funeral in their trusty 501 jeans, with themes of togetherness, support, and to give a sense of belonging.

_Offer a casual, friendly tone of voice. Ganni’s use of informal emoticons suggests a relatable, peer-to-peer relationship with consumers, while Ikea’s language of togetherness creates a sense of camaraderie that cultivates trust and connection.

2. Distraction 

There’s often a craving for distraction from the uncertainty, and brands can offer this with momentary escape. Playing with time – harking back to simpler eras, using nostalgia, or transporting us toward a brighter future – are key tropes within this mindset. After all, an escape from the present is the ultimate distraction from uncertain times. 

Distraction: How To…

_Emphasise intentionally retro aesthetics and allude to nostalgia. The latest design for toaster pastries, Pop-Tarts, is a nostalgia trip back to their iconic 1960s packaging, allowing consumers to be distracted from uncertain times with comforting memories of the past.

_Tap into the surreal. The wellbeing supplement brand, Dirtea, evokes dreamscape imagery that defies reality with a product that actually levitates and positions itself as a portal to a utopian world that distracts from the uncertain present by letting consumers escape.

_Reference futurism through digitised worlds. Coca Cola has catapulted us to the year 3000 with their new release that allows a taste of the future, created using AI, all while using 2023’s Colour of the Year: Digital Lavender. This emphasis on futurist realities invites us to disengage from the present moment.

3. Embracing

This is where brands are really getting stuck into the mess by either doubling down on difficult topics, or making light of uncertainty with relatable humour. Here, we see brands lean into the chaos, by being on the consumer’s side as they find light in the darkness. And, in the more extreme examples, challenging the status quo by forcing the audience to confront an uncomfortable and uncertain future. 

Embracing: How To…

_Get people laughing by playing with the bizarre. Heinz has released its first global ad campaign in 150 years celebrating ‘irrational love’ for the brand, like the idea of putting ketchup on ice-cream, or Heinz tattoos. Elsewhere, product comparison website, Compare The Market uses a witty tone of voice to parody the temperamental British weather. Both are finding humour in the unpredictable.

_Lean into the confrontational and uncomfortable. Balenciaga’s Mud S/S 2023 showcased a dirty, post-apocalyptic world, while Isamaya Beauty has recently presented an extreme otherworldly makeup style. These encourage us to rethink our current way of living by physically immersing us in the darker side of uncertainty.

_Reframe the narrative around uncertainty. The travel planner service, Journee Trips, plays with the language of excitement and mystery to maximise the idea of discovery and adventure; celebrating not knowing your destination until you reach the airport.

Which uncertainty mindset best fits your brand? Or do you tap into another mindset altogether during these turbulent times? To find out more about the opportunities within chaos, please get in touch.

In our latest issue of City Limits we head to Los Angeles as the city prepares to host two of the world’s biggest sports events in the next five years…

City Limits Volume 10 – download it here

For the tenth issue of City Limits – Crowd DNA’s ongoing exploration of the urban experience – we’re exploring sport as another lens to focus on city culture (read previous issues on themes such as mobility and the night economy here). But this time, things are a little different, as we turn our focus onto a single city for once. With the men’s World Cup in 2026 and the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2028 both taking place in LA, the city is uniquely placed to showcase sport today – and forecast how it could look next in our ever-evolving cities. 

These are going to be the first global sports events that Gen Alphas experience as young adults, and the world’s entertainment capital will surely know how to get their attention. Our City Limits reports on how preparations are taking place for this, and what it could look like both off-pitch and on…

The City Limits LA Sports issue combines Crowd DNA’s new research on the Future Of Sport with talking to people on the ground across the city itself, as well as looking at issues like the impact of big events for marginalized urban communities, and brand initiatives during big sports events.

The full 13-page report includes:

_27 emerging trends in sport

_We talked to 500 people across the US for a full survey on the Future Of Sport 

_The conversations about sporting events impact on a city and its community

_A semiotic analysis of what event design reveals about action off the field

_LA right now as Angelenos speak up about what matters to them

City Limits Volume 10: download it here 

Crowd DNA’s Tom Meadows on the tools to conduct research that engages people who might think, feel, move or communicate differently 

With diversity, equity and inclusion more on the agenda, within that market research has started tuning into accessibility for people with disabilities. It’s something we talk about a lot more. Our job is not just about speaking to people, asking questions, and completing activities. It’s about making sure all of those things are done within an environment that’s comfortable and empowering.

When we design our project set-ups, it’s to make people feel at ease to get the widest range of experiences. So when it comes to working with people with accessibility needs, this means we have to look at what deliberate steps we can take, to design fieldwork so they are properly included, and can contribute their opinions. 

Being disability confident takes time, but what we are learning from talking to participants is helping us create more approaches. We will keep taking the steps to make sure everyone can engage and give their honest insights in a research setting. 

Here are five learnings that help our disability-inclusive approach…


1.With additional needs, there’s no need to guess. Just ask 

Running inclusive fieldwork is certainly not a one size fits all approach, and it can be counterintuitive to assume so. Any extra considerations someone needs to allow them to fully express themselves, and feel comfortable doing so, shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a foundational building block in our fieldwork planning. Hindsight is fantastic for so many things, but don’t use it to retrofit accessibility needs into a fieldwork plan you feel is already complete.


2. Initial clarity goes a long way to ease anxieties 

Taking five minutes out of your day to give someone a call, or drop them a text to walk them through what the interview involves, how many people will be there, and what their role will be goes a long way – trust us. To be able to come along to an interview feeling informed, with no sudden surprises ensures we’ve got the perfect environment for fieldwork. Lead with the consideration you’d expect for yourself, and the insights will thank you for it.


3. Try your best not to ‘other’

Even before fieldwork, look at how you design your sample. It’s crucial not to isolate participants with accessibility requirements or make them feel like outsiders. While separate groups or interviews are sometimes a good option, don’t assume that additional needs automatically need to be grouped together and generalised. The brands we work with want to foster a sense of belonging, being part of a community. So let’s carry the same values when we’re speaking to consumers.


4. Bring it all together in the fieldwork itself

Everything we’ve said up until this point is fantastic, but only if it shows up during interviews. Take everything you’ve learned from speaking to participants, implement all of the considerations that you’ve asked them for. Remember any tweaks you might’ve made to a discussion guide or activity to make sure everyone can contribute. Have the confidence to encourage participants who might still be a little uncomfortable in market research environments, and make sure everything is in place for them to do so. Ultimately, lead with kindness and understanding.


5. Reflect and share

As we mentioned at the beginning, we acknowledge this is very much a work in progress. But that progress needs to be intentional. Set some time aside to look back over your fieldwork and ask what went well and where it could’ve perhaps been improved. Make sure your experience doesn’t stop with you, keep the conversation going and equip the rest of your team with the invaluable knowledge you’ve picked up. 

If you’d like to hear more of our thoughts on accessibility in research, please get in touch:

Semiotics At Crowd: Vyrao

Modern luxury is on a mission to channel and enhance our personal wellbeing journeys. Crowd DNA’s Celine Longden-Naufal and Dr Jennifer Simon decode how one luxury brand transforms these desires into reality…

Many of us are turning to spirituality to cope with uncertainty, distrust and disenchantment with what makes us happy. Traditionally, luxury wellness brands have positioned themselves as the oracles between consumers and ‘spiritual’ experiences that go beyond the ordinary. Such brands offer pseudo-scientific insights, such as astrology and tarot readings, often prescribing curated ways to see, think and feel to regain a sense of order. 

However, modern luxury consumers are beginning to create their own realities. They’re looking to explore and be inspired by a range of influences: from the mysterious potential of posthumanism, science and technology, to the sacred rituals of the past to ignite their own personal spiritual transformation.

Vyrao, a wellbeing brand that fuses energetic healing with perfumery, represents this shift to more profound personal and interpersonal journeys. By positioning themselves as portals rather than oracles, brands like Vyrao are opening new dimensions and offering novel, fluid and exciting ways to create a life we want to live, rather than being bestowed a predetermined fate from above. 

By uncovering three semiotic codes – and how they’re grounded in wider culture – we explore how Vyrao is elevating luxury wellbeing by taking consumers beyond the limits of their imagination to unlock their inner magic.

  1. 1. Luxury As Ethereal Transportation

As the craving for personal transcendence grows, luxury brands are paving the way for wellness experiences that extend the imagination. A term often associated with the paranormal, Vyrao’s reference to ‘stimulating the sixth sense’ gently invites consumers to engage with the unexplored, while visuals of avatars mapping energy onto the human body bring attention to our qualities beyond the humanly physical, coding luxury as awakening a novel entity within us.

Vyrao uses metaphysical visuals to code luxury wellbeing as awakening a novel entity within us

Vyrao’s use of purples and blues evoke dreamscapes and mysticism, setting the scene for imaginative stimulation. Humanoid figures peeking through planetary shadows suggest AI generated alien beings, whereas visuals that resemble humans floating in outer space suggest alluring, but approachable otherworldly transportation, portraying luxury as pushing earthly boundaries so we can explore the unknown. 

By tapping into the exciting aura of the extra-terrestrial and metaphysical, Vyrao is challenging our more prescriptive perceptions of spiritual wellness by positioning itself as a portal able to transport us there.

  1. 2. Luxury As Soulful Transformation

While luxury’s traditional approach to wellness has often been fuelled by insularity and fixed conventions, brands are now connecting to experiences of synchronicity, flow and oneness to authentically uplift and transform.

Sacred rituals and emotional connections point to luxury as a catalyst for self-determined transformation

Empowering statements such as ‘I am Magnetic’ ignite command over one’s own ability to allure through a powerful and inexplicable force. Visuals of women pressing their foreheads against each other resemble the warmth and connection associated with women’s circles, facilitating spaces to emotionally and spiritually connect, share and empower, coding luxury as unlocking the potential for meaningful impact.

Swirling mists circling porcelain vessels and candles connote the ceremonial tools used for sacred rituals, coding luxury as a catalyst for self-determined transformation. These almost shaman-esque qualities shift luxury from its impersonal, opulent reputation to a warmer, human connection to the soul, the earth and the sacred.

3. Luxury As Modern Alchemy

Today, luxury brands are establishing themselves as the ultimate portal by embracing new influences while celebrating the knowledge of the past.

Vyrao’s version of luxury wellbeing is one rooted in age-old wisdom infused with scientific precision

The juxtaposition of earthy, geological materials and smooth, white porcelain vessels resemble the tools used in alchemy such as pestle and mortars, suggesting the continuation of ancient practices. However, emphasis on blue and silver colour schemes recalls pharmaceutical comms, evoking a sense of clinical efficiency. When this is paired with chrome materials and glossy liquid drops similar to the alchemical practice of melting precious metals, it suggests a preservation of age-old understanding that has evolved with scientific precision.

Through this fusion of science and spirituality, Vyrao codes luxury wellbeing as transporting consumers on a magical journey to both the past and the future by optimising the mystery of age-old wisdom in conjunction with future-facing innovation to ensure enduring quality.

As demonstrated by Vyrao, modern luxury brands are updating our perceptions of spirituality and wellness. What is considered meaningful and sacred can come to life through novel synchronisations of ancient rituals and future-facing visions to resonate with today’s consumer. Like a magician, Vyrao’s hypnotic and ethereal storytelling creates a new dimension of luxury wellness that is able to manifest desires into reality.

Want to talk more about the new codes of luxury? Get in touch at:

Thurs October 5 at 1pm & 5pm BST / 12pm & 5pm EST. RSVP by clicking the first session here and the second session here.

Everything’s A Mess... a webinar on how brands can navigate uncertainty 

As you may have noticed, it’s been a turbulent few years. Shocks of uncertainty feel like they’re coming more seismically and frequently than ever (though, spoiler alert: things have always been uncertain) leaving us, and brands, and consumers in a constant state of flux. 

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is good to come from uncertainty, and in chaos lies opportunity. So, how can you find a way through? 

What should brands do or not do? Are you a hand holder, facilitator of escapism, or relatable realist – and what’s right for your brand?

At Crowd DNA we’re all about embracing the messiness of culture. It’s where we think brands can really thrive, and we relish our role as specialists in navigating unknowns. In this webinar we’ll:

_Discover how uncertainty can be a motivator for both consumers and brands

_Explore the human needs that are heightened in response to instability

_Use our trends and semiotics expertise to provide guidance on how brands can speak to these needs, across visuals, language and more

Join Rachel Rapp, futures director, and Amy Nicholson, associate director, futures, on Thurs October 5 to get stuck into the mess.

RSVP by clicking 1pm BST / 8am EST here and 5pm / 12pm EST here.