28 July 2011

The uphill battle for QR codes

QR codes offer the potential to enhance a poster in all sorts of cool ways. But there are issues to think about before you use them.

Audience side

  1. Why do I care what’s on the other side? What is the carrot for someone to take the picture with their smartphone and download? Most of the carrots I’ve seen offered by QR codes are on par with those “3 secrets of a flat stomach” ads that litter websites. 
  2. QR codes are not self-explanatory. You have to explicitly explain to someone what it is and how to do it the first time. When people first got email long ago, they included explicit instructions about how to format the addresses. It took a few years for understanding of email to become common knowledge. QR codes are at that very early stage of people’s understanding of what they are.
  3. You need a smartphone. Heck, I don’t have one.
  4. You have to have a specific app on your smartphone.

Presenter side

  1. QR codes require planning. You have to have something to link to. Given that many people do things at the last minute, making a QR code falls off the list.
  2. Most QR codes are links to the Internet, so what is that the advantage over a text URL? It can be quicker, I suppose, if the URL is long – but even that can be fixed using bit.ly or some other URL shortening service.

Still, even if you are clever enough to come up with something cool to do with a QR code, there are these little barriers that you have to get through on the audience side to make it work.

For those who argue that the biggest problem with QR codes is that they are ugly, I urge you to check out this gallery of QR codes, which take advantage of just how tolerant QR codes are to distortion. You can make some quite beautiful things with QR codes. (One shown at right.)

Don’t put anything critical for understanding of your poster on a QR code just yet.

Indeed, after I wrote the bulk of this article, a commenter in a previous post brought up that some companies, notably Google, are moving towards near-field communication (NFC) instead of QR codes for some purposes. As NFC relies on a chip, though, it is difficult to see them replacing QR codes in every situation.

Related posts

Smart posters
Too futuristic? Or already too passe?


Genomic Repairman said...

Wonder how readable a QR code is on a glossy poster?

Zen Faulkes said...

It should be fine, given how tolerant QR codes are to losing some information.

dalloliogm said...

I think that you should explain what is it in the poster. If you just put the code on a corner of the poster, nobody will know what to do with it. But if you put the code and print an arrow pointing to it and saying 'use your smartphone on this' many people will be attracted.

Zen Faulkes said...

That's an excellent point, and exactly what I've done on my posters.