Katie Ewer
Mar 19, 2015

Asian Champions of Design: Blunt Umbrellas

A simple observation about eyeballs in peril led to a true innovation that's not only functionally elegant but also visually distinctive.

Asian Champions of Design: Blunt Umbrellas

Insights are the gold dust of our industry, but the truth is that a simple observation is a powerful thing. Observing how dangerous umbrellas can be to your eyes led Kiwi Greig Brebner to turn points into blunt corners—a simple observation that led to an elegant and effective solution.

Once in a blue moon, the right combination of enterprise, ingenuity, tenacity and luck results in a design that revolutionises a category by solving a genuine problem. Tetrapak brought resealable, efficient ease to fiddly, fumbly milk cartons. The Biro made ink blot-free writing available to the masses. And Blunt has fundamentally redesigned a product that has been frustrating people around the world since 1928: the modern umbrella.

Greig Brebner developed his uber-umbrella in his native New Zealand. He reasoned that if he could build an umbrella that could withstand Kiwi-style gale force winds, he would have built an umbrella that would work anywhere. He did it, creating a lightweight, strong umbrella that can withstand winds of up to 50 mph. (That’s a ‘strong gale’ on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, by the way.) He also managed to build one that wouldn’t poke anyone’s eyes out.

Here comes the science bit: Blunt umbrellas use a radial tensioning system that distributes the effort used in opening the umbrella throughout the entire canopy, which makes the umbrella really strong so it won’t bend in a bluster. The distribution of force extends to each point of the umbrella – which, by the way, isn’t really a point: it’s blunt. The Wall Street Journal describes the structure of Blunt umbrellas as ‘somewhere between suspension bridge and NASA space probe’. How cool is that?

In short, Blunt umbrellas are a real innovation. In functional terms, they are light years ahead of anything else on the market. But in stylistic terms, they pull off something equally brilliant because for the first time, we have an umbrella brand that is distinctive and recognisable. This is quite possibly the first real ‘designer umbrella’ we have seen—and I mean that in every sense of the word. It’s engineered, it’s stylish and it’s totally unique. In the grey sleet of windy Wellington or the tropical downpours of Singapore, you can spot a Blunt a mile off by virtue of the brand's characteristic blunt corners and bright, cheery colours.

I believe that the sign of a really great design is when our response to it is a kind of bemused, satisfied incredulity. Statements like ‘Of course! How obvious! Why haven’t they done that before?!’ are really the best feedback you can ever hope for. Blunt umbrellas solved all of our umbrella issues in one intuitive, human and joyful design.

Can’t wait for the next rainstorm.

Did you know?

To be perfectly blunt, one of these doesn’t hold water (scroll way down for the answer).

1. To highlight their product’s radical design, Blunt’s Kiwi founders Greig Brebner (mechanical engineer) and Scott Kington (marketing exec) originally called their company Pointless Umbrellas.

2. Brebner’s inspiration came in 1999 when he was living in London, where, as a tall man (he’s 6’3”) he would have to battle umbrella spokes positioned at his eye level. He also noticed that Londoners would just throw umbrellas away once they’d blown inside out. He thought there must be a better way.

3. Blunt recently launched an app that allows owners to track mislaid umbrellas in the same way that iPhone users can locate their lost devices.

4 National Geographic channel staged a competition between Buffalo Turbines and Blunt in which three umbrellas had to protect three facades of miniature houses made of straw wood and brick for three minutes. The turbines—blowing air at 200 mph from just a few feet away—won, but the umbrellas held up impressively and only one collapsed under the onslaught.

5 In 2014, Blunt commissioned LA artist Michael C Hsiung to create a range of posters for a new marketing campaign. His artwork shows objects in need of shielding by Blunt umbrellas. Thus a doughnut is protected from a mob of hungry stoners and overweight policemen, a stick of dynamite is kept away from objects likely to light its fuse and a hippy is saved from coming into contact with animal furs, shaving cream and job applications.

6 The Blunt golf umbrella has a fibreglass shaft to protect golfers from lightning strikes. It recently won the prestigious IF Product Design Award for 2014.


Katie Ewer is strategy director at JKR Global in Singapore.
Check out the rest of the Asian Champions of Design series, which is now available in book (and e-book) form.

 

Answer: Good golly, lost brollies can’t (yet) be located with an app. Number three, alas, is a lie, but don’t bet against the Blunt boys making it true someday.

 

 

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