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."

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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 (45)
  • kayah-4-bar
    3/17/2016 - 11:04 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because it's almost impossible to make an umbrella that not only covers you from the rain but an umbrella that covers you from the muddy puddles you step in. Another reason would be because of the size of the new umbrellas would be huge, "The most obvious drawback, however, is that, when folded, it nearly doubles the length of a conventional umbrella."(paragraph 6). This umbrella yes would be helpful but living in California its not that much needed for us. This article was very interesting because this umbrella could be almost impossible to make but very much needed for people who live in rainy states.

  • dianner-2-bar
    3/17/2016 - 11:31 p.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because people are making a total new one ans are not adding to it. This article made me realize that umbrellas are far from perfect because as it said " 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" and it is very much true. I enjoyed this article because it talked about the umbrellas and how people have tried but failed.

  • seans-2-bar
    3/17/2016 - 11:44 p.m.

    People have become attached to the simple umbrella, as stated above "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". People have been using the umbrella for 3 thousand years, and they don't want to change. This article had the least abhorrent question, and so I was satisfied.

  • ethang-1-bar
    3/18/2016 - 12:31 a.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to build upon because,"only a handful of designers have put forth their best revisionist ideas"so it would be hard to improve upon that until better technology will be available.I found this article very interesting on how these little things like umbrellas, need improvements to some people.

  • masonh-ver
    3/18/2016 - 10:06 a.m.

    I think that umbrella design is cool it's like a shield and I think it said ipthat u don't need to hold it either

  • sydneym-3-bar
    3/18/2016 - 10:11 a.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve upon because the most popular design is incredibly efficient. As the last paragraph of the article says, to improve the umbrella you would have to make it easier to repair or recycle. But since the six and cost of the umbrella are pretty good, it is hard to make a better model. I found this article interesting because too many times has my umbrella broken on me and I wanted to know if there was a better model.

  • oscarb-1-bar
    3/18/2016 - 10:22 a.m.

    The umbrella is so difficult to improve on because there are so many faults to deal with it. The article says "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" This means that every flaw just leads to more. 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. I thought the article was very interesting.

  • carsonk-2-bar
    3/18/2016 - 10:42 a.m.

    The umbrella is so hard to improve because there isn't lots of things we could do to it to make it better. "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?" This article wasn't interesting because changing umbrellas sounds like a stupid idea. This article did not surprise me because of americans coming up with dumb ideas.

  • bethh-ver
    3/18/2016 - 02:23 p.m.

    I think the umbrella (s) we have now are fine. They keep my dry .

  • gerrong-ver
    3/18/2016 - 02:25 p.m.

    How are you going to see if it's going downwards. Who brought it up because I think an regular unbrilla works fine.

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