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

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween78/inventing-perfect-umbrella/

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is the umbrella so difficult to improve upon?
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COMMENTS (45)
  • alexm-ver
    3/17/2016 - 07:34 p.m.

    It would be pretty embarrassing if a young 8 to 12 year old could improve the umbrella but everyone else that has tried couldn't.

  • kailynh.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 07:48 p.m.

    the umbrella is so difficult to improve on because of the simplicity of the item. like this article states, " the umbrella is basically a hat on a stick." which is fitting for most people; its easy to manage and it doesn't involve a lot of work to fold up and unfold the umbrella when specifically needed in any given situation. changing the umbrella would be difficult but it is do-able and it can be improved to protect us from water and at maintaining its job.

  • calebc.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 08:04 p.m.

    Because it already has the middle and perfect design because all the other ones are either not good enough or they are too much to handle.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    3/17/2016 - 08:07 p.m.

    I didn't know that many people were making new designs and improvements to umbrellas. I didn't think that people would need something more than what we have no. Some designs are the Rainshader and the design made by Hiroshi Kajimoto. The Rainshader doesn't block people's views, it doesn't poke people, and it channels wind flow across the surface. The design made by Hiroshi Kajimoto is an inside out folding umbrella, is good at resisting wind, and folds upward to keep the wet surface inside and away from people. There are many flaws in the new designs but people are trying to improve it.

  • madisons.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 08:15 p.m.

    the umbrella would be difficult to improve because it would have to be easier to handle and stronger.

  • garrettm.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 10:03 p.m.

    There is not much you can improve on it'd been around for a melinium

  • angelinat-3-bar
    3/17/2016 - 10:06 p.m.

    The umbrella is difficult to improve on because many people know and like the ionic version of the umbrella so, it may be difficult to market the new umbrella. In the article it says, "None of these improvements, however, has the makings of a true evolutionary leap for the old school rain cover-at least not yet." This shows that many people may not be able to 'one up' the old ionic umbrella. I was interested in this article because I do have problems with the current umbrella. I was not surprised by this article because I would assume that sooner or later they would make a new umbrella.

  • annah.-tay
    3/17/2016 - 10:10 p.m.

    It's so interesting how something as simple as an umbrella is thought out so extremely.

    • 10-zachary-mar
      3/21/2016 - 11:59 a.m.

      I agree its simple but hard to fix

  • sheilah-6-bar
    3/17/2016 - 10:13 p.m.

    The umbrella is difficult to improve because it is hard to recreate a convenient design. The article states, "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." People try to recreate a better design but can't make it so that it will become smaller to fit in a bag. People have made umbrellas with better structures, but have many flaws. I find this article interesting because I didn't know umbrellas were so difficult to recreate. I will probably be happier when they actually make a new design.

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