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October 2004 | Vol. III - No. 10


Chaos: A World of Motion

Jim Rothbarth, designer of the Chaos (ToyDirectory) kinetics system, has been an entrepreneur and inventor since college. After graduating he started his first company designing home satellite electronics. As the business evolved, other product lines were produced, including Loran and GPS navigation units and portable cellular phones.

This man´s life changed when exposed to the sculpture of George Rhodes in 1993. The excitement of this artist´s work was the inspiration for Chaos.

Rothbarth learned from development and marketing that nothing is more important than quality. Flaws and reliability issues are never tolerated. The Erector set, for example, has been sold for over one hundred years.

"The secret of the Chaos success was the early design decisions and a willingness to listen to our customers. It took a couple of years to get the instructions correct and tweak a few of the connectors. The set remains constant today," Rothbarth remarks.

His engineering process required ingenuity and skill. After deciding on the size needed to provide the visceral and emotional feedback he was looking for, the real work began. "It was vitally important that a toy this size be lightweight and easily moved during building and when the design was finished. No other construction toy has accomplished both of these goals," he explains. "In order to provide long-term enjoyment the toy was based on an open architecture. This allows for the builder to design structures that are the result of their imagination. The children can become kinetic artists while learning the cause and effect of physics and gravity."

Rothbarth includes an instruction CD with a curriculum of activities appropriate for grades 3-12. He says these "hands on minds" activities teach the younger children the vocabulary of physics while older children can apply their math skill in a sophisticated manner. The system is for ages eight and up, but he emphasizes that parents are in the best position to evaluate the building skills of their children. Target range is eight to ten years of age.

The appeal of the toy is twofold.

"The challenge and joy children have as they design and build a structure is very rewarding, and, of course, there is the wonderful prize on completion as the balls rise to the top and begin the journey downward through loop de loops, trampolines, swinging gates and other stunts. The kinetic art experience provides entertainment and excitement that validates the successful completion of their design,” Rothbarth says.

Chaos is available through toy and education catalogs in addition to retail sales outlets that have carried the product for years. Without a background in the toy industry Rothbarth assumed a toy that had received the acclaim Chaos had would end up in Toys R Us or Walmart. This wasn´t the case. "It seems that catalogs are the only toy outlet that has an underlying commitment to classic toys not available through the large discounters," he says.

Featured by more than 15 museums and 2,000 schools around the country, Chaos is a timeless work of art with multiple awards. Rothbarth adds, "If you get it right a great toy can be around quite awhile."

Writer's Bio: Julia Ann Charpentier is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and an editor for book publishers. Read more articles by this author


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