is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Springtime means rain, which means umbrellas. Except, a few years ago I resolved not to carry an umbrella with me unless it was really pouring out. It’s rare that I’ll head out in the morning with one now, and since then I’ve found that in most cases when there’s rain in the forecast one of two things happens: either the rain never actually materializes, or if it does, there’s not enough of it to actually warrant an umbrella.
Inevitably though a real downpour comes and only a fool would venture outside without one. In those cases I’m reminded why I dislike the contraptions so much: they’re very poorly designed.
The other day, after a particularly hard storm in New York, I wondered if anyone had solved this problem, and had done so at scale. When I asked Twitter, I got a decent amount of replies but nothing totally definitive. There are a few companies, like Davek, making high quality umbrellas, and a few, like Senz, who have tried to reinvent the umbrella, and at least one crowdsourced project, Nubrella, that seems intent on turning the form into some kind of arty practical joke. Each undoubtedly has its merits, but there was no clear winner among the responses; moreover I didn’t really see that they solved the basic complaints that I have with today’s umbrellas.
So, for no better reason than blogs must publish things like ideas for improving umbrella designs, here are my ideas for improving umbrella designs:
- A strap with a buckle. Part of the reason I don’t like to carry these things is because once wet, I have no place to put them. For smaller umbrellas, it would be so useful to have a strap that fastened with a snap buckle, so that I can hook it onto my bag.
- A bag you won’t lose. It should be possible to integrate a durable bag that stays dry into the design of an umbrella. This would let you easily tuck away a wet, closed umbrella without the net effect of soaking all your other stuff.
- A method for easily identifying your own umbrella. Imagine a varying graphic pattern on each umbrella handle, applied at the factory. One umbrella has two dashed stripes, another has a solid stripe and a red stripe, a third has a pattern of stars, etc. If each handle was unique — or unique enough that it would be very unlikely you’d ever run into another one with the same pattern, it would make life much easier when it comes time to fish yours out of a bucket full of umbrellas at a restaurant.
- An electronic tracker. Integration with a Tile-like chip would solve one of the worst problems inherent to today’s umbrellas: they get lost all the time. You probably don’t want to be notified on your phone each time you stray too far from an umbrella, but this seems like it’s a problem that technology can solve elegantly.
- A means to repair a broken umbrella. I’ve thrown away more umbrellas than I care to count simply because the cost of repairing them would have far outstripped their monetary worth. I think that’s a shame. When an umbrella part breaks, you should be able to take it to a local shop or send it to a specialist to get it fixed.
If someone built an umbrella like that, I might even carry it around when the forecast calls for it.+