An Umbrella Can Teach A Thing Or Two About Product Longevity

This time of year always brings a few gems from outside Hackaday’s usual circle, as students attending industrial design colleges release their final year projects, The worlds of art and engineering sit very close together at times, and theirs is a discipline which sits firmly astride that line. This is amply demonstrated by the work of [Charlie Humble-Thomas], who has taken an everyday object, the umbrella, and used it to pose the question: How long should objects last?

He explores the topic by making three different umbrellas, none of which we are guessing resemble those you could buy. The first is not particularly durable but is completely recyclable, the second is designed entirely with repairability in mind, while the third is hugely over-engineered and designed for durability. In each case the reader is intended to think about the impact of the umbrella before them.

What strikes us is how much better designed each one is than the typical cheap umbrella on sale today, with the polypropylene recyclable one being flimsy by design, but with a simplicity missing from its commercial counterpart. The durable one meanwhile is full of CNC parts, and carbon fiber.

If you’re hungry for more student work in this vein, we recently brought you this toasty typewriter.

28 thoughts on “An Umbrella Can Teach A Thing Or Two About Product Longevity

  1. The most durable umbrella is only comical because it actually fails to be a practical umbrella. Improved further with weight reduction, repairability, and time-tested materials (not mystery-meat carbon fiber composites) in mind, it would clearly be the best choice. The linked article is simply a nuance-bro justification of planned obsolescence. Nice try.

    1. Yeah, and it wouldn’t actually take much to improve the durability of currently manufactured cheap umbrellas. A bit of more metal in the weak hinges and a way to change the fabric would go a long way. And probably some kind of let-go mechanism that tolerates turning over in a heavy wind without permanent damage.

    2. Fails why? Because it’s almost 2kg? I would actually prefer that, to be honest.

      But yes, add repairability to the ultra-durable one and then comes the “shut up and take my money” phase (no, “repairability” does not, as some bits in the article imply, mean “repairability by ever random bozo who normally can’t tell a screwdriver from a slab of bacon”).

      1. I wouldn’t much care what the weight is either, however its very easy for the naturally stronger and larger folk to handle a weight that would be crippling for the smaller folks. But as that weight would make it unusable for a large portion of the population, as a serious product…

      2. The problem with a $100, lasts forever umbrella is that umbrellas get left next to doors to dry.

        They get stolen or accidently switched.

        It might last forever, but an expensive umbrella is like _asking_ to walk in the rain.
        What do the idiots do about their $10k Gucci umbrellas?

        The advantage of a 2kg umbrella is you could _beat_ someone’s ass with it.
        Even without the built in sword, taser and 9mm.

        1. >What do the idiots do about their $10k Gucci umbrellas?

          What do you mean, “do”?

          There’s a man holding it for you, and when the rain’s gone they just take it away.

          1. Most ‘designer shit’ customers are upper middle class posing as billionaires.
            Same people that buy BMW 7s with a 6 year loan, roll their negative equity forward.
            They care when their overpriced junk is scuffed, a lot.
            More then when their kids O.D.

            I just don’t get it! At all!
            Baffles me, to piss away freedom for status symbols.

            Use it to build sympathy for the innumerate. I am unfashionable (better word?).

            I once was commenting on how much the bikinis in swimsuit edition cost.
            Working it out to $/square inch. Basic financial analysis. Engineers gonna engineer.

            Was challenged to ‘make me a swimsuit’.
            So I did.
            She wouldn’t even try it on.
            Didn’t like the material…Clear plastic wrap, dental floss and clear tape…What I had…I spent hours on that bikini…maybe hour…football/beer was involved.

            Like I say, ‘unfashionable’.

  2. I like the repairable idea. I have a small pile of umbrellas “to be repaired” from various family members. All repairs would require (TIG) welding… Maybe one day, some time I am doing project that requires TIG welding, I’ll fix them.

    Personally I get by without use an umbrella.

    1. I’d not bother with repairs unless its actually a good durable design umbrella – just salvage the good bits to later make use of the parts – those thin ribs on the cheap umbrella will fail at the hinges almost certainly leaving a pretty good length of thin stiff and light U channel rod that can be useful for many other things, while the fabric for me is probably most useful as a light weather proofing pocket/pouch…

      Still going to be a pile of waste no doubt, as you can’t hold on to all the junk forever, but got some use out of the good bits (surely even the Aussies and N.Americans with their generally huge spaces can’t horde that much)..

  3. I have a Tumella umbrella and it serves pretty well, as far as durability is concerned, but it is still bistable and can invert in the wind. I found it by searching for “indestructible umbrella” but clearly what I really need is an indomitable umbrella, or perhaps an invincible one.

    I’ve thought about starting a “Monostable Umbrella Company” to make it, but I feel like advertisements where it rips the arm off of a dummy in a wind tunnel without flipping inside-out might not be persuasive.

  4. I used to wonder about durability in the wind. But I soon came to realize that when the wind is that strong, the rain is just blowing all around and wetting you anyway.
    I either leave the bumbershoot in my car or carry it collapsed in case it’s helpfull later.
    When the wind’s that bad I figure getting wet is just a done deal.
    But I do feel like an umbrella should be fairly durable.

    On a side note:
    If/when I can remember to keep a few of the Aldis plastic shopping bags in my ride, they can be handy to keep a couple of things dry by slipping one down over the top of the other.

  5. I have a Fultons umbrella and it seems plenty sturdy enough to last without being too expensive. The canopy has an outer ring and inner circle that overlap so if the wind catches it the two separate slightly and the air flows through. Fibreglass not carbon fibre. The only thing I would like is a bigger handle to wrestle it in the wind.

    My point is that you can have a sturdy umbrella without CNC machining a handle from stainless steel. I think this industrial designer needs to meet an accountant to negotiate product specs.

  6. Back in 2021 an amusing picture did the rounds in the UK as then-PM Boris Johnson was all afluster as his umbrella was blown inside out, while then-Prince Charles sitting next to him remained calm and collected under his umbrella, somehow knowing he was “safe”:

    I liked the look of Charles’ umbrella so I looked it up, and the difference became clear. Boris’ umbrella has wording printed on it so was presumably supplied to him by the event organisers for free, while Charle’s umbrella with its solid hardwood handle and pole with brass tip cost £285+

    1. Chuck, call him Chuck.
      Remember the great commemorative wedding song ‘Drink up Chuck and Di!’?
      Dr Demento IIRC.

      Also never mention ‘Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile OBE KCSG’ without all the honors.
      So the peerage understands that we understand the level of respect we should have for them.

  7. most expensive umbrella i ever bought had carbon fiber replacing about a third of the metal rods that typically define the shape of an umbrella. it was a push-button-to-release spring-loaded kind and the spring, every open, exerted a tremendous and ultimately fatal instantaneous force on a piece of plastic that was the nexus between all of those little carbon fiber rods. it lasted least long of any umbrella i’ve owned (less than a year), and its destruction was entirely self-caused. not a fan of self-opening umbrellas, as this is only one of their unique failure modes not shared by their slightly-less-convenient kin.

    still angry about that

  8. As someone who recently looked into the very specific topic of durable umbrellas (because mine broke), I can tell you that they do exist and are on the market. The “Unbreakable” umbrella and it’s extremely well designed. It’s durable and light because it’s made of some type of fiberglass.

  9. Recyclable, you keep using that word without considering the fact recycling needs energy, plus a lot of countries do not recycle and a lot of people don’t even bother separating their trash in countries they recycle, so recycling can’t be used as “oh, it’s fine, it’s recycleable”, it’s not, it’s not a say it and forget it thing

  10. Here in Costa Rica, we have Rego, a locally made umbrella that also does repairs in-store. Just yesterday my umbrella broke. I happened to be in downtown San Jose so I stopped by one of their stores. They had me back on my way in about an hour. It wasn’t cheap – roughly a third of the purchase price, but it was nice to not have it end up in a landfill, plus it gave me a chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee at one of the sodas I just walk past all the time.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.