Monday Memories 01- Donald J. Bergsma

A great man – Donald J. Bergsma

When I decided to write a blog, one of my first thoughts was to have a monthly post about someone or something  that has influenced me in design. They may be someone who I have gone to school with, someone who I have listen to speak or someone who has taught me something new.

I thought it would be best to start with a man that (other than my family) has had the most influence on my life. Donald J. Bergsma or Mr. B., came into my life when I was a student at SPJC (St Petersburg Junior College). I was an aloof, undirected student and Mr. B was the head of the Architectural department. He was our design studio professor and had the reputation of being a hard ass. On more than one occasion, I received the literal prodding of his thumb to my side to “get with the program.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that these misguided perceptions were wrong and Mr B was someone who genuinely cared about each of us. He was indeed hard on us (those that needed it), but did so to make us better. He pushed us and expected nothing less than the best from us.

SPJC Class of ’93

I distinctly remember two philosophies from Mr. B that I still use today. The first is the concept of “shit on a plate”. He would use this term when we presented a project and didnt have great ideas to support it. It was understood that each design should have a grand idea (concept) and then 2 to 3 supporting ideas. If it was a building, a commercial or an ad…it didn’t matter… If you started with a weak idea for placement, message, etc…and supported it with something random,  you would hear the reference of “shit on plate”.  I see many ideas that have little to support it. And many more that seem to be post-rationalized…Shit on a plate!

The second of his philosophies that has stuck over the years is the “sexy girl” analogy. Mr B would refer to this when we were presenting our work. Again, it didnt matter if it was architecture, an ad or whatever…You can look at something an say “wow!”, that’s sexy…or conversely, it’s horrible. If you “sexy girl” stopped you would probably give her an extra look. At that point, you may realize that she has three eyes or that one of her boobs sags or that she has a lil moustache….but you would never have seen that unless you stopped in the first place. Our job as designers is to get that initial stop, to be attention grabbers. If we can get someone to commit more than the typical 7 seconds of their time, then we have succeeded. Our goal is to have them enjoy or even question our work. The more time we get, the better we have done.

In the years after JC, I would randomly exchange notes with Mr. B. Sometimes it would be a joke, a note about his cars or even word about his painting. As you can see in the image below, Mr B was quite the accomplished painter. The impressive thing was that he would use everyday media to paint on. This particular image is painted on the flip side of a Ritz cracker box. Anyway, there are many things I remember about Mr. B, many laughs and many lessons. Thanks for everything you did. You are missed!

Painting by Donald J. Bergsma ( on flip side of Ritz box)


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7 thoughts on “Monday Memories 01- Donald J. Bergsma

  1. I too had the honor of being taught by Don Bergsma in Arcitechtural Design And Architectural Rendering in 1973. I have always thought of him as the best teacher and the person who had the most positive influence in my way of percieving the world. I am sad to hear he has passed.

  2. This weekend I learned via serendipity that Mr Bergsma died. The man was truly one of those few instructors you remember forever, and wished you had kept in touch with. I washed out of his Design 2 course many years ago, to pursue a career in IT. I of course bear him no ill will, the choice was mine and he helped me discover that with his honest and relentless questioning. His lessons for design are ones I continue to use in everyday life it seems, in everything from landscaping to simply arranging the furniture. He taught us well, and I can only hope to someday impact others in such a way.

  3. As the 28th of January is approaching I cannot help but think of my departed friend Don. We had lunch virtually every Tuesday here in St. Petersburg. We shared an interest in automobiles, English examples, mainly Bentleys. We each had two early post war cars and rarely tired of tinkering or talking about them. Don blessed my wife and I with 10 years of his wit and paintings of which we have at least twenty painted on virtually every substrate known to man. Knowing him has made me a better man….I will never forget him.

    • Wow, I am extremely sad to hear that Mr. Bergsma passed away. He was our landlord when I was young girl. We lived in his condo at Villages of Seaport. He owned to units and we lived in his rental property. He would never raise the rent and always made sure that we were taken care of. He was one of kind with a heart of gold. I am now 41 years and today while thinking of all the wonderful people I have met through the years, he was one of them. Tonight, I went to look him up online to see how he was doing, and found this post. I did cry seeing this. I sure wish I would have reached out sooner to thank him for all he did for us. I will never forget him. Truly blessed to have known him!

  4. So woefully late in hearing of Mr. B’s passing! To echo all the words above, he was indeed a teacher whose influence remained strong and, yes, hard though he could be, he always cared. It is not every day that we can count teachers/individuals/friends/acquaintances in that category, but he certainly was! We are all very lucky to have known him!

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