Inventing the perfect umbrella The Senz Umbrella is seen in this photo. (Senz Umbrella/Rain Shield)
Inventing the perfect umbrella
Lexile

Umbrellas shield people from the rain, but the current design is far from perfect. They fold down into soaked, dripping messes. They crumple when hit by powerful blasts of wind. And they fail to safeguard us from muddy puddle splashes

A handful of designers have put forth their best revisionist ideas for shoring up some of these drawbacks. There's the Rain Shield, which features an enlarged canopy that extends. It's sort of like a tail on a tuxedo, down one side. This extra coverage guards against incoming splash. It also prevents forceful gusts from catching the inside of the umbrella. 

The Rainshader resembles a blown-up motorcycle helmet (without the face guard). This version is designed to not interfere with people's views by hugging the user's head. This will help at crowded events like concerts or games. It will also prevent poking others. 

The Senz umbrella is another oddly-shaped reboot. It comes in the shape of a stealth fighter. It is aerodynamically formulated to channel wind flow across the surface, in a way that won't cause it to flip over. The company claims the Senz can withstand winds of up to 70 mph.

None of these improvements, however, has the makings of a true evolutionary leap for the old school rain cover-at least not yet. Each concept, while lessening one flaw, creates others. For example, the Rain Shield's unusual shape requires that the user skillfully twists it down to size. This makes it similar to folding down those mesh pop-up hampers. 

Using a Rainshader can feel a bit confining while appearing to others as if you're wearing a "nylon mullet." And if you're thinking of sharing the Senz umbrella with someone else, forget about it. Coverage is entirely lopsided.

Another person that has tried his hand at a 2.0 version is Japanese designer Hiroshi Kajimoto. His new creation is called the UnBRELLA. Its collapsing frame is on the outside. It is better at resisting wind. It also folds upward to keep the wet surface inside and away from you and others. The ability to quickly funnel and drain the excess water also means you'll have more space in the living room. It eliminates the array of open wet umbrellas left out to dry. It even stands up to drip dry.

There is an obvious drawback. When folded, it nearly doubles the length of a regular umbrella. Again, there's something about these efforts to transform a tool that's been around and has remained, at its core, mostly unchanged for a millennium that comes off like trying to reinvent the wheel. It's understandably tempting for designers to try their hand at something that's naturally simple enough, yet has puzzled numerous imaginative minds before them. The Telegraph has even called the challenge to improve the umbrella the holy grail of amateur inventors.

"The rewards for whoever improves the umbrella are substantial," writes Susan Orlean in the New Yorker. "The annual retail market in the United States alone is now $348 million-about 33 million umbrellas. The rest of the world, including many cultures where umbrellas are used both as rain protection and as sun shade, consumes many millions more."

But perhaps, when it comes down to it, people have grown too used to the umbrella. It has the notable look of a perfectly circular hat on a stick that simply opens and folds when we need it. They'd like it to stay cheaply disposable enough to forget in taxicabs, parties and other public nooks. Maybe, it's fine the way it is.

"It's hard to improve on the umbrella," writes designer Charles Lim at Crooked Pixels. "A better umbrella would have to be easier to recycle or repair. Or it would be constructed from carbon fiber to make it both durable and light. But why even bother? Umbrellas are perfect because of their price and size. It's a satisfied and dry market."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is the umbrella so difficult to improve upon?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (147)
  • spencerh1-pro
    3/16/2016 - 11:34 a.m.

    The umbrella is hard to improve on because,lessening one flaw leads to another.

  • mckenkor000-hay
    3/16/2016 - 02:46 p.m.

    hey thers a unbrela even beter its a normal unbrela but thers a plastick cote arond it going down to your feet

  • samuelr-2-bar
    3/16/2016 - 03:43 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve on because of everyone being so used to the current design. The article states that "It's hard to improve on the umbrella," writes designer Charles Lim at Crooked Pixels. "A better umbrella would have to be easier to recycle or repair." This shows that improving the umbrella can prove to be very difficult at times because of the fact that many people have grown used to the current design. Imagine if someone took something you were very familiar with and just took it from you and switched it up. That would be very frustrating. The article also states that "people have grown too used to the umbrella." Another point showing how people do not want a new umbrella. To summarize the umbrella is so hard to improve upon because of the fact that everyone has grown so used to the original design.

  • colek-1-bar
    3/16/2016 - 06:45 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because once one problem of the umbrella is fixed, another problem arises. Many prototypes of new umbrellas that were an attempt to fix the umbrella were made, but, "Each concept, while lessening one flaw, creates others." (paragraph 5). Take the Rainshader for example. It effectively blocks out the rain, but it can feel confining at times and cannot be shared with anyone because of its shape. The umbrella has been around for a long time, and, despite its many flaws, is still effective for keeping the rain off. That is why the umbrella is so difficult to improve on. I thought this article was interesting and found amateur scientists trying to improve the umbrella surprising and funny.

  • andrew-1-bar
    3/16/2016 - 08:41 p.m.

    There have been three attempts that have come close to being the replacement of the new umbrella. The Rainshader resembles a blown-up motorcycle helmet.Using a Rainshader can feel a bit confining while appearing to others as if you're wearing a "nylon mullet" and requires that the user skillfully twists it down to size. The Senz umbrella is another oddly-shaped reboot. It comes in the shape of a stealth fighter so it cant tip over and the Senz umbrella with someone else the Coverage is entirely lopsided. The UnBRELLA has collapsing frame is on the outside. It is better at resisting wind. It also folds upward to keep the wet surface inside and away from you and others but the problem is that it is twice as long as a normal umbrella. But our traditional umbrella is cheap and easy to use and I don't think we are going to change soon!

  • kyleyc-kut
    3/17/2016 - 07:43 a.m.

    An inventor in Japan created an umbrella with a coat that falls to your feet and shields you from both wind and rain. Although some have said its completely useless, its a better invention than these umbrellas. it folds back to the same size as usual umbrellas but it may be harder to fold. but I wouldn't know, I don't own one.

  • kades-kut
    3/17/2016 - 07:57 a.m.

    I think it is interesting that designers still have not came up with a new umbrella. They did say that they are a few new prototypes but with the problems that they fix create new flaws like it being to big or it being hard to fold up. I honestly don't mind the umbrellas that we have right now. Yeah they might turn inside out if the wind is too bad or the umbrella might drip on the people next to you it is still a good invention and i don't see why we need a brand new umbrella if it creates a bigger problem.

  • GigiSylvester-Ste
    3/17/2016 - 12:59 p.m.

    YES, all i want in my life is something to prevent the wind from blowing in my face!! I am going to invest in one of these!

  • vincents-1-bar
    3/17/2016 - 01:07 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve on because of everyone being so used to the current design. The article states that "It's hard to improve on the umbrella," writes designer Charles Lim at Crooked Pixels. "A better umbrella would have to be easier to recycle or repair." This shows that improving the umbrella can prove to be very difficult at times because of the fact that many people have grown used to the current design. Imagine if someone took something you were very familiar with and just took it from you and switched it up. That would be very frustrating. The article also states that "people have grown too used to the umbrella." Another point showing how people do not want a new umbrella. To summarize the umbrella is so hard to improve upon because of the fact that everyone has grown so used to the original design.

  • simonak-3-bar
    3/17/2016 - 07:08 p.m.

    The umbrella is so dofficult to improve upon because it a staple in our daily, rainy lives. A designer said that, "A better umbrella would have to be easier to recycle or repair. Or it would be constructed from carbon fiber to make it both durable and light. But why even bother? Umbrellas are perfect because of their price and size. It's a satisfied and dry market." This means that many people have tried to reinvent in, but because are the perfect size and price, there does not seem to be an urging need to create a new umbrella design because of its original design being such a necessity.
    My opinion on the article is that I find all of he other proposed designs interesting.

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