31 March 2011

Smart posters

If you want to create something special on your poster for smart phone users, you want to learn about QR codes. The good news is that they are dead simple and very versatile.

I created a QR code to one of my websites using one of several free QR code generators online. I ended up with something like the graphic at left.

I printed it out, and walked down the hall to one of my colleagues, Chris Vitek, and asked him to take a picture of it with his iPhone. He had never seen one of these before. I repeat: he had no idea of what it was. But he took a picture, used a bar code reader app, and had the phone asking if he wanted to open the link to the website in mere seconds. It was probably faster than if he had tried to type in the website URL.

And the genius thing is the sheer number of different things you can embed in a QR code. A website link. An email address. A YouTube clip. A location in Google Maps. And so on... and so on.

  • If your poster is for a paper in press, you can put a link to the journal or the PDF.
  • If you have something that is well documented by video (fairly common in biology!), create and upload the video to YouTube in advance. Much easier than mounting a television on your poster.
  • You could record a video “tour” of your poster that people could run through if they came by when you weren’t next to your poster.
  • If you are a grad student or post-doc on the job market, you can put up your email address and contact information so that people can get in touch with you more easily. Presumably, this gets stored into people’s smart phones on the spot, as opposed to business cards that can get lost.

And that is just the beginning. There are many more things you can potentially do with QR codes, including playing around with texting people, using Twitter, Facebook, and much more.

I see two dangers with this.

One is that there are so many things that you could do with a QR code that the temptation would be strong to do all of them. Your poster should not look like some mysterious stamp collection. Pick one, maybe two, things you want to do with a QR code and do them well.

The second danger is to include some critical information that is only available using the QR code. This would violate the general principle that a poster should be self-sufficient as possible. the poster should be like the feature presentation on a DVA. The material made through QR code should be like the DVD bonus materials: pleasant for those who are interested, but not essential to understanding the main show.

The mind boggles at the possibilities. Even I, who do not have a smart phone, can see the potential for using this to make something memorable for those who do.

Credit where it’s due: I was thinking about ways posters, and poster sessions, could take advantage of the ever increasing ubiquity of smart phones when I found that the Poster Session blog beat me to the punch! Curses! I thank them and give them all due credit for giving me the key information that allowed me to write this post.

Additional: Bone Girl had similar ideas!

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More power! The poster with a plug

P.S.—If you end up using ideas in this blog, I certainly wouldn’t object if you added the QR code pictured here somewhere in the corner of your poster.


EllenQ said...

Great idea! I am just about to print out my poster and I'll think about adding a QR code. I'm not sure what to encode though. I like the idea of encoding a link to a copy of the poster.

Mike Pascoe said...

Great idea, definitely doing this for my ACSM poster in June. I found this paid service that looks pretty sweet if you want to link to a bio page. They have a 15 day free trial that should get you through your conference:


What do you think?

I'll probably put a single QR code that links to my CV or a video of the methods.

I put a QR code in my dissertation too, I need to post photos of that soon!

Zen Faulkes said...

The level of web browsing for some smart phones is almost as good as a desktop browser, so I am not sure how big the advantage would be for a "mobile specific" service.

But I am the wrong person to ask. As I said, I don't have a smart phone. Heck, I usually forget I have a mobile phone at all. In fact, I think I need to charge mine now.

M I said...

Next level of Smart Posters will be NFC enabled posters instead of these creapy qr codes.. what are your thoughts about nfc?

Zen Faulkes said...

I hadn’t known about NFC at all until you mentioned it. I'll probably have more to say in an upcoming post.