The Challenge

Design a guest experience on Rockefeller Plaza that’s part human connection, part celebration.

The Outcome

A warmer, more connected audience experience that allows them to feel more than just spectators, but a part of the TODAY show.

Long before Tina Fey’s hit show 30 Rock made it a household name, Rockefeller Center was among Manhattan’s most popular destinations. Not least because NBC’s TODAY show starts every morning by filming its gaggle of fans gathered at Rockefeller Plaza.

When TODAY asked IDEO to help design the experience of their guest audiences before, during, and after the show, IDEO's team joined the fray—standing behind the barricades from 7 to 9 a.m. alongside the show’s visitors.

A rendering of the new plaza, designed to orient and engage visitors.

Nbc Today Rendering 2

We gathered feedback and learned what was most important to this dedicated audience: to feel a human connection to the people they had shared their mornings with—every day, for years, sometimes for decades. Visitors wanted a celebration, an event they could document and remember, and of course a clear sense of where to go and what to expect once they arrived.

TODAY’s morning time slot offered an additional challenge: The visitor experience would need to be assembled and fully dismantled every morning, leaving Rockefeller Center in its pristine historic state immediately after the cameras stopped rolling.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and cast members in front of the plaza’s iconic archway on 49th Street.

Hero  Nbc Today Archway 2

To ensure a solution that would be both satisfying to visitors and viable for the show, IDEO engaged audiences, anchors, and crew in a series of live prototypes that incorporated feedback from all sides and designed a warmer, more human-centered experience for everyone involved.

Visitors to the show can now RSVP at TODAY.com/visit beforehand. When they arrive at the new iconic archway on 49th Street, they are given clear directions by dedicated plaza staff on what to expect during their visit. The audience can also craft posters to display in the crowd, receive commemorative Birthday, Bucket List, or Super Fan buttons that recognize special occasions during their visit, and watch live video and audio feeds to build excitement and momentum when the anchors head into the studio.

From the moment visitors decide to visit TODAY at Rockefeller Center to the weeks after when they share memories with friends, the revamped plaza experience ensures visitors feel cared for and appreciated. They now leave feeling that they’re more than just spectators—they’re the heartbeat of TODAY.