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 deficiencies. 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). Hugging the user's head, this version is designed to not interfere with people's views at crowded events like concerts or games and to 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 mitigating one flaw, propagates others. For example, the Rain Shield's unorthodox shape requires that the user skillfully twists it down to size, 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. With the collapsing frame on the outside, his creation, the inside out folding UnBRELLA, is not only better at resisting wind, but also folds upward to keep the wet surface inside and away from yourself 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.

The most obvious drawback, however, is that, when folded, it nearly doubles the length of a conventional umbrella. Again, there's something about these efforts to revolutionize 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 intuitively simple enough, yet has befuddled 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 accustomed to the umbrella. It has the distinguished aesthetic 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 (170)
  • calis-3-bar
    3/16/2016 - 06:00 p.m.

    The umbrella, although it may not seem like it, is a complex piece of technology It has many jobs: keeping water off, shielding multiple people, protecting from cold, keeping water out from under, and many more functions. It has many flaws, but fixing those leads to other problems being caused. So, these problems cannot be fixed without causing many more problems. That is why, even though the design seems simple, the umbrella is so hard to improve upon. I liked this article. I have always thought that the umbrella needs improvements. It seems like such a simple thing and it is not very well thought out. It is cool to see that they are trying to improve on it, and I hope it works out in the end.

  • collinf-2-bar
    3/16/2016 - 06:58 p.m.

    The umbrella is difficult to improve upon because it is already "perfect because of their price and size." It is hard to improve on something that is already perfect.

    I found this article interesting because I am intrigues by a new type of umbrella.

  • sebastianr-6-bar
    3/16/2016 - 10:12 p.m.

    The umbrella is so hard to improve upon because there are many designs and attempts that have done pretty well but not one of them succeeded in protected people from splashes, rain, crumpling from wind, and a wet mess. It is hard for companies to create an umbrella that does it all but they are working on it. I think it is interesting that something as simple as an umbrella is not technologically updated and amazing compare to many other things that help people in their everyday lives.

  • deaconp.-tay
    3/16/2016 - 10:26 p.m.

    why are people trying to improve something that works just fine? American people make no sense..

  • lucasl-3-bar
    3/17/2016 - 12:21 a.m.

    The umbrella is difficult to improve upon for various reasons. As stated by the article, altering the design solves some problems, but also creates different problems. Umbrellas have been successful due to their simple design and ease of use. By complicating the design, cost, complexity, and size increases. These factors prevent newer umbrella designs from penetrating the market. The article was an interesting explanation of a simple item that entrepreneurs are looking to improve. Although small and seemingly insignificant, this particular case of umbrella improvements represents a greater development of more complex technology that could revolutionize modern machinery.

  • taylorl-3-bar
    3/17/2016 - 12:23 p.m.

    Cause u need it to stop the rain

  • Mallory-raf
    3/17/2016 - 01:08 p.m.

    because it is a 1 person umbrella and very hard to handle

  • laurens-raf
    3/17/2016 - 01:10 p.m.

    The umbrella is so hard to improve on because everyone is accustom to the regular umbrella. That when people came out with the new and improved umbrella that people did not like it because the shape was weird and they expected more from this invention.

  • jade-raf
    3/17/2016 - 01:20 p.m.

    Its so hard because the umbrella is a very basic thing so its hard to make something basic even more basic

  • dallinp.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 06:17 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because it is basically as good as you can get while staying in most people's price range and still being efficient and easy to use.
    Besides, having a nylon bonnet is kind of weird and unorthodox.

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