Architecture, Design

Memories of a Great Teacher – Donald J. Bergsma

When I decided to write a blog, one of my first thoughts was to post about someone or something that has influenced me in design. It may be someone who attended school with me, someone who I have listened to lecture, or someone who taught me something new.

A great example of this is a man whom (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 St. Petersburg Junior College (SPJC). 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.

 I distinctly remember two philosophies from Mr. B that I still use today. The first is the concept of "turd on a plate". He would use this term when we presented a project and it didn't 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 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 "turd on a plate".  I have seen many ideas that have little to support it and many more that seem to be post-rationalized...Turds on a plate!

  • SPJC - Class of 1993
The second of his philosophies that stuck over the years is the "attractive guy/girl" concept. Mr B. would refer to this when we were presenting our work. It didn't matter if it was architecture, an ad, or whatever... He said, you can look at something an say "wow!", that's attractive...or conversely, it's horrible. If  an "attractive guy/girl" passes, you are likely to stop give him/her an extra look. At that point, you may realize that he/she has three eyes , dirt on his/her face, or  even smells a bit....but you would never have noticed that unless you stopped in the first place. Our job as designers is to get that initial stop, to be the attention grabbers. If we can get someone to commit more than the typical 7 seconds of 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 J.C., I would randomly exchange notes with Mr. B. Sometimes it would be a joke, a note about his cars or even word about his paintings. As you can see in the image below, Mr B was quite the accomplished painter. An interesting fact is that he would often 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)