Today we hear first-hand from Brian Alldridge, the man behind a design taking the world by storm. This story has captured hearts and minds around the world, and we are excited to bring you some exclusive insights!
Identifying the Issue
To begin we turn to Jimmy Choi, an elite athlete and Parkinson’s campaigner. Jimmy has himself previously appeared in Charco blogs about his life story and personal philosophy, and through his campaign work is frequently in the public eye. In his plight to widen public awareness of Parkinson’s, Jimmy posts regular videos on his TikTok account, @jcfoxninja. Jimmy’s content often focuses on the struggles he faces as someone with YOPD: the everyday, mundane tasks which are rendered more difficult by the symptoms of Parkinson’s. These issues are daily facts of life for many with Parkinson’s, yet they are often absent from the discourse surrounding the condition. So often, attention is by necessity given to the more “urgent” problems posed by long-term conditions, issues that present immediate threats or discomfort. This means that, for those not directly involved with the Parkinson’s community, there is little awareness of the difficulty involved in routine, ordinary tasks.
For Jimmy, one such task was taking his medication. This is frequently an issue for people with Parkinson’s. Indeed, you may recall our post about a movement initiated by a group of people with Parkinson’s to address this problem. In Jimmy’s case, it was hard to access the pills due to their miniscule size. As do many with Parkinson’s, Jimmy has diminished fine motor skills, and the pills’ size made it difficult for him to administer medication himself.
Surely, Jimmy asked, it must be counter-intuitive to make Parkinson’s medication inaccessible to people with Parkinson’s? It was this which spurred him on to make a video about his struggles, showcasing this issue for a wider audience on TikTok.
One of Brian’s Initial Sketches
Jimmy’s Video Goes Viral
Jimmy’s video quickly went viral as it resonated with people around the world, having amassed almost 700’000 views at the time of writing. One of the people who happened to see the video was Brian Alldridge, an Oregon-based videographer. Though Brian had an interest in design, he had never had any formal training. Until this point, any technical know-how was either self-taught from YouTube tutorials, or remnants of growing up in a STEM-oriented household. Brian kindly agreed to meet with a few members of our team in January, only a matter of weeks since this all began. Even by then, the story had found a global audience.
‘I’m just scrolling through TikTok one night, and I see Jimmy’s video’, Brian tells us. At first, he could hardly believe that this was a problem which hadn’t already been solved.
‘I looked at it, and I was like, “why doesn’t he just get a pill bottle for that?”.’ Later, Brian started searching the internet for existing patents.
‘I start looking it up; and where you should be finding devices which aid people in taking their medication, there’s just nothing there.’
Searching through pre-existing technology, Brian repeatedly noticed the same pattern. Rather than tackling the issue afresh, people tried to modify past innovations to fit a different purpose.
‘I found that people were basically taking industrial or clinical-grade mechanisms, and trying to scale them down. The further down the list I went, the more complex the devices became to do a very simple thing.’
However, this was not the only reason why Jimmy’s video had made such a deep impression on Brian. Brian understood that it can often be the small struggles, the daily difficulties, which accumulate and become unbearable.
‘I couldn’t stop thinking about the video’, he tells us. ‘It’s the little moments in life that cause you to have a big breakdown.’ Intuitively, Brian had come to the heart of the matter. When embarking on any design for people with long-term conditions, the process must arise from the people themselves: their needs, their problems, their aspirations. Being guided by people’s knowledge and experience is the only way to produce something which may truly make a difference.
Two Days, One Design
After conducting some preliminary searches, Brian had quickly come to a resolve.
‘I messaged my friend around 11pm, and I said “I’m going to solve this problem”.’ He quickly drew up some initial sketches, looking to collect his ideas into one coherent design.
Even at the outset, Brian had clear ambitions for the project. For one, he wanted to ‘minimise the number of parts you’d need to make, in order to get a production run out’. In the first version, he managed to limit this to a design consisting of three separate parts. He was also committed to making user-experience a priority. The design had to be easy to use, accessible to those who needed it, and aesthetically pleasing.
After continuing to work on his designs into the early hours, Brian finally reached a point where he was happy, and posted a video showing his new device.
Brian’s Original TikTok
Giving a brief explanation of his situation, Brian talked through his new design, for a pill bottle for people with Parkinson’s. To make prototypes, he needed a 3D printer: since Brian did not have access to one himself, he asked if anyone would be kind enough to print the design for him.
Thinking back to that night, Brian still seems shocked by just how quickly events unfolded.
‘It was maybe 2000 views when I went to bed, and just 10 comments of people saying that that they’d print it. So I put up these files, and go to bed.’ And the next morning?
‘I wake up in the morning and there’s a million views! [Now well over 5 million.] My Instagram’s maxed-out with people saying that they have 3D printers.’
What follows is a flurry of high-speed collaboration and development. Looking back, Brian describes the next few days as a ‘blur… people kept testing and testing and testing.’ Facilitated by the high-speed back and forth communications allowed by the internet, these many collaborators quickly narrowed the design down to a working prototype. Videos began to flood in of people printing the prototype and using it themselves. Astonishingly, Brian estimates that, ‘from publishing the file to having a working version’ took ‘under 2 days’.
The Story’s Appeal
This story has resonated with people in their thousands, becoming the subject of much interest all over the world. For Brian, the story captured attention because of what it tells us about ourselves.
‘At our core’, he reflects, ‘I think humanity is much more good than we like to give ourselves credit for. I think just having an opportunity to make even a little bit of difference, in a horrible year, really sparked that tiny part of us that wanted to do something. I mean, it made my year!’
Charco’s Lucy and Alex offered their own thoughts on why this story attracted so much intrigue. In Lucy’s mind, the story sparked such a strong reaction because it gave people hope.
‘For me’ she tells Brian, ‘what was really inspiring is that you knew there was an issue, you knew you could solve it, and you made an effort to engage lots of people in solving this problem.’
Alex notes that the story also reveals something about our current situation. This is, he argues, a ‘2020 story’, one which could have only happened in the world of now.
‘We’re all ultra-connected through TikTok, we’re scrolling through it all day at the moment due to the pandemic, everyone’s got a 3D printer, and everyone’s super-keen to share.’
Indeed, these are all valid reasons; the fact that we each had a different reaction only further demonstrates that this story has something to offer everyone. High-speed communication, lockdown restlessness, new technologies; this was truly a story belonging to the modern day. Nonetheless, though it may have been made possible by contemporary events, our narrative has a much more basic message at heart: the power of community. Offer people the opportunity to do good, and chances are that they will. In making that video, all Jimmy wanted people to do was listen, and understand his point of view. Well, listen they did: only a couple of months later, Brian is on the precipice of launching the pill bottle to a mass audience. A daily problem, so long an issue for many with Parkinson’s, may soon vanish through creative collaboration!
What The Future Holds
Even since the time in which we last spoke, the Parkinson’s Pill Bottle project has grown and developed rapidly. Brian and his collaborators have received a huge amount of interest from people with Parkinson’s, not to mention the media!
When we spoke to him more recently he had (finally!) been able to get his hands on a physical version of his design, due to the help of a local 3D printing lab.
‘This’, he says, holding up one of the latest versions of the bottle, ‘is version 6.1’. Since Brian’s original sketches, many exciting new changes and developments have been made. The bottle has been made shorter, for example, to ensure the pills themselves aren’t broken. The lid itself is designed in such a way that those with visual impairments can easily dispense their own medication.
In every one of these new modifications, Brian retains two key considerations: the bottle must remain cheap, and it must remain accessible. The product itself, by his own admission, ‘has about the same amount of plastic in it as your average McDonald’s toy’. Whatever form this project will eventually take, a passion for improving quality of life for others will no doubt remain at the bedrock of everything they do.
In Brian’s own words:
‘Sure, it’s just a little cup that spins, but if I know that I’ve made somebody’s life a little better from day to day, that’s more than enough.’
Undoubtedly, this is a project we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future. To Brian and all the team: Charco shouts out a massive good luck to all of you! You are an absolute inspiration to the world.
Thank you for reading! If you have any enquiries about Brian’s project, please visit https://www.parkinsonspillbottle.com. From all of us at Charco, we hope to see you again very soon 🙂
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