Recently I was introduced to the unusual concept of QR Codes. As this opened a whole new world to me I started looking for more information on the use and success of these mysterious codes. No matter how much information I find, there are still many questions left unanswered.
What are QR Codes?
QR Codes allow everyday items to become a website (print-to-mobile-to-web messaging) where everything can become a hyperlink, or “physical world hyperlinking”. The “QR” stands for “Quick Response”. These smart codes are similar to the price barcodes found on the packaging of supermarket items, however, QR Codes hold much more information (including website addresses, text and phone numbers). A price barcode can hold only about 20 digits (one direction only) but QR Codes can hold up to 7,000 digits (both vertical and horizontal directions).
“The genius behind QR Codes is that even a hairless chimp can play with them.” – Dana Oshiro, Mashable
How do QR Codes work?
Have you ever had a lot to say and not enough room to say it? You may not be unhappy for too much longer because these QR images can encode up to 7,000 alphanumeric characters.
QR images consolidate data down into a graphic which can be viewed at any size readable by a digital camera. When a QR reader is installed on a mobile phone, the consumer simply points their camera phone at your barcode, and the phone links them directly to your web page in seconds.
How are QR Codes used?
So far, QR Codes are being slapped up on just about everything in Asia. Here are just a few examples of where you can find them:
- Business cards
- Food products
- Art and tattoos
- Fashion: Lendorff Kaywa produced only 500 high-end limited edition Space Invaders QR Code scarves. Meanwhile, QRCode Commando Nerd p8tch offers a slightly more affordable “p8tch” to sew to bags and clothing.
Anyone with a smartphone can scan and read QR Codes with the click of a camera, and anyone with access to a computer can generate QR Codes themselves. Kaywa’s QR-Code offers a QR barcode generator a link to download their reader.
By scanning the codes, you can access images, websites, place phone calls, play a video and send text messages. By creating the codes, you can produce your own messages. It is pretty exciting if you think of the marketing possibilities of actually living it this type of “web” world.
QR Codes are massive in Japan, appearing in magazines, billboards, business cards, shop windows, T-shirts, and more. McDonalds in Japan are also using this on the side of burgers which directs you to a web page displaying the nutritional information.
So far in the US, Google will be taking another stab at QR Codes by calling its program Favorite Places. They will be providing restaurants and other retailers with stickers for their windows (reviews, Zagat ratings, positive newspaper and magazine features). The UK and Australia are also starting to use QR Codes more in advertising.
Pros of using QR Codes:
With QR barcodes, in one click you’ll be directed to your mobile website. This saves time and avoids the frustrations of typing complicated URLs into a web-browser or dialing a 1-800 number.
Go Green: The codes are also meant to increase efficiency and reduce waste. For example, paperless air travel, electronic tickets for a concert or registering for an event. This type of registration will likely become more popular as camera and scanner technology improves.
These codes are great for advertisers, publishers and brands because they are connecting the physical world to the interactive world and driving traffic to their mobile internet site. This is an effective way to add interactivity to any print media and the possibilities are endless!
Cons of using QR Codes:
Despite being created back in 1994 QR Codes are rarely seen in America, because our phones don’t come equipped with the QR Code readers. This is the reason for very slow marketing and advertising progress. I do believe that QR Codes will start to pick up soon because smart phones with cameras are becoming more and more common (Android or iPhone). Recently, Blackberry messenger 5.0 was released and this included a barcode reader. Once these readers are pre-installed on cell phones and a major brand brings more attention to the technology (Google), QR barcodes will be the new media wave.
As a graphic and web designer, I’m thinking… “does the 2-D QR Code lack visual dynamism? Could graphic elements be inserted into the code to make it more memorable?”
It’s true that you don’t need a built in barcode reader, but you do need to download a free barcode reader app. Here are two highly recommended iPhone QR Code apps:
QuickMark – $1.99
- Seems to be the fastest reader out there.
- Is the first of the “just wave it around” QR Code readers.
- Pinch and scale how big the barcode is before decoding. Handy since iPhone’s camera can’t focus.
You can also create your own free QR Code for any website or short blurb of text using code generators like this one from Kaywa.