When Rihanna released an award-winning song whose catchiest word was “umbrella,” I was perplexed. Not only is the word ugly, but it also refers to a boring utilitarian item that is associated with bad weather.
Living in Philadelphia at the time, I had a miserable relationship with umbrellas. They literally turned on me when I needed them most. During the wet seasons, I resolved myself to a monthly cycle of disposing and purchasing umbrellas. I never spent more than twenty dollars on an umbrella and never expected it to last longer than a few windy rainstorms.
I moved back to California five years ago, and given the drought, hadn’t quite needed to use an umbrella until this winter. In mid-December, my existing umbrella mysteriously disappeared from my doorstep. “Here we go again,” I told myself as I logged on to Amazon, “Back to the umbrella-buying loop.”
My complaints were quickly put to rest when I found that one of the highest rated umbrellas also met my twentyish dollar budget. But I was more surprised by the fact that it claimed to be “unbreakable” and came with a lifetime guarantee. Lifetime. I always thought that the entire umbrella industry relies on untamable weather.
Dubious, I purchased the Kolumbo on Amazon. The worst that would happen was that it would break and I would need to buy a new one. The worst case scenario was my status quo.
Four days after my purchase, I got a personal email from a customer service representative from Kolumbo. Though I’m by no means an Amazon power-user, I’ve never received a message from anyone other than Amazon regarding and Amazon purchase or shipment:
This, from an umbrella manufacturer. My heart flooded with positive feelings. Already, I was a fan. A few days later, I received my umbrella and thankfully (both for the drought and for my eagerness to use the umbrella), it rained the day after. The only thing more magical than pressing the button for it to open was pressing the button for it to close.
This umbrella is phenomenal.
It quickly became a conversation topic for me and I even made one sale.
And while I’ve only had the umbrella for a few weeks, I’m almost confident that should this unbreakable umbrella break for, I can replace it through my trusty friend Greg.
After my umbrella purchase, I started thinking about all the long-term products in my life — That denim jacket I’ve had since I was in elementary school, the years-old hand-me-down espresso maker, a gifted journal — and what makes them special.
What makes them special is that they are always there for me, no matter what, whether it’s while standing on the windy Golden Gate Bridge on my fifteenth birthday, after waking up feeling like I need another night’s sleep, or when in search of a silent listener. Our bond is unconditional. In some, anthropomorphic way, they are my trusted friends.
Which brings me to real humans.
In the hustle of our everyday responsibilities, it’s easy to take the people in our life for granted. Sometimes I feel that I don’t even have enough time for myself, let alone other people. Other times I’ve also been left out to dry when I’ve needed a friend the most. Life has a climate of its own and at times we find ourselves basking in sunlight with an umbrella to spare, while at others we’re caught in a storm with no umbrella at all.
While product design can take great inspiration from interpersonal relationships, the opposite is also true. We can learn from good products. There’s something comforting about knowing from Day 1 that you are interacting with a product you can trust. Something grounding about knowing from the get-go that a product will shield you through even the gustiest of winds. Something heartwarming about realizing that in its company, you are the priority.
We humans are nothing but products designed to share beautiful moments with one another.
Consider the version of yourself that’s out in the world right now. Are you the product you want to be? Are you the product you expect others to be? If so, shine on. If not, simply take some time to close up, flip around, and open up a different way. You, like my new umbrella, have impressive power instilled in you. And more importantly, you, like my new umbrella, have a lifetime guarantee.