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 (145)
  • caymanm-2-bar
    3/17/2016 - 09:52 p.m.

    The umbrella is hard to improve upon because with every umbrella fixing a flaw leads to another flaw. For example, a umbrella could be bigger and cover you more, but it will be hard to roll up and will be bigger than other umbrellas. Charles Lim says " A better umbrella will have to be easier to recycle or repair. Or it would be constructed from carbon fiber to make it both durable and light." It would be bad to change umbrellas because they already work well and many people have them and are use to them. I thought this article was interesting because umbrellas seem to work fine for me, and I don't see a need for any major improvements on them.

  • waverlyb-612-
    3/17/2016 - 10:09 p.m.

    Umbrella's are hard to improve because fixing one flaw of a umbrella could cause another and because the style we have now work and people like the style so its hard to find a new type that people think work just as good.

  • maxwellc-3-bar
    3/17/2016 - 10:16 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because as the text says, "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." Basically, distributors are content with selling current umbrellas to people because they don't cause that much money. To make an umbrella better, a lot of money and time would be put into it which is hard and useless for large corporations to do. I think these businesses should be worried more about helping people than making money.

  • jilliand-3-bar
    3/17/2016 - 11:14 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because no one can seem to build a design that fixes most of the flaws of the original umbrella without creating new problems. In the text it says, "each concept, while lessening one flaw, creates others." So when an umbrella is designed to protect someone from the rain at different angles, its inconvenient shape makes it hard for people to use. I thought this article was interesting because I never knew that people were designing new umbrellas. I have also always thought that umbrellas do not really protect you from the rain as much as they should.

    • 14-gracie-mar
      3/21/2016 - 11:19 a.m.

      I agree to this comment because, as it says, when you add to an umbrella, also minimizing flaws, you create more flaws while doing it. But the invention of the umbrella can be turned into something new, it just takes time.

      • 4-isaac-mar
        3/21/2016 - 11:28 a.m.

        I agree with you because it takes time to create a perfect thing. It took Tomas Edison hundreds of tries to create the light bolt. it just takes time.

  • adamp-3-bar
    3/18/2016 - 12:23 a.m.

    The umbrella is very difficult to improve for a few reasons. The main reason is "each concept, while lessening one flaw, creates others." What this means is everytime a flaw is fixed a new flaw is produced. Another reason why it is very hard to improve the umbrella is improved umbrellas would be very expensive. Charles Lim of crooked pixels says,"why even bother? Umbrellas are perfect because of their price and size. It's a satisfied and dry market.". What he means is umbrellas are already very cheap and people don't have any big problems with them so why make expensive changes. My opinion on this article is that I think they should make worldwide changed to umbrellas. I can use an umbrella and still become very wet. I'm sure someone could develop a perfect yet inexpensive new umbrella.

  • gregorys-6-bar
    3/18/2016 - 12:49 a.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because the umbrella is accepted and widely used across the world. When something like this happened in the past, there usually had to be a large demand for them to replace the old ones. This umbrella is no different and must be better at a lot of things. I thought this article opened up something for me that I thought wasn't relevant mean somethings to me.

  • sheridanm-6-bar
    3/18/2016 - 02:50 a.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve on because everyone is so used to the classic umbrella design. Also many of the new improvements to the umbrella have many pros and cons, which so does the classic umbrella. "Umbrellas are perfect because of their price and size. It's a satisfied and dry market." Designer Charles Lim states the basic fact why people aren't interested to improve the umbrella.

  • noahf-3-bar
    3/18/2016 - 06:26 a.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve on because everything you improve on causes another problem to occur such as it being bigger and clunkier to carry around or not being able to share with a friend, all of these improvements have drawbacks on them, but eventually they will invent a better umbrella.

    I thought this article was interesting because I learned a lot about umbrellas that I never knew.

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