A quick look at Quick Response codes

Published by | Thursday, May 5th, 2011

If you’ve consumed any media at all recently, you may have noticed strange looking squares on signs, magazines, billboards, webpages, and even buildings. These squares are QR codes. QR (Quick Response) codes are a type of barcode, similar to the barcodes you see on everyday products in grocery stores. These QR codes often contain URLs that direct users to sites where they can learn more about a place, product, or particular subject.

One of the reasons that QR codes have increased in popularity is the near-ubiquity of camera phones. If you have a smartphone, you have a QR code reader. When encountering a QR code, all you have to do is snap a picture with a QR code-compatible application, and you will be taken to a site with more information about the item to which the QR code is attached. Sometimes, QR codes can even direct you to a physical location—say you’re on a walking tour or in a museum, for example, that has QR codes on its floorplan. Take a snapshot, and directions are immediately imported into your phone.

QR codes may look like complicated gibberish, but they’re pretty simple to create. There are several web sites that will create a QR code for you in just a few clicks. For example, I created the QR code above by going to the ZXing Project web site, selecting URL from the dropdown, entering a URL, and clicking on Generate.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and a QR-capable application, like the Google app (check availability for your phone on the Google Mobile App site), can snap a picture of that QR code, and be taken to the embedded URL, in this case, lynda.com.

QR codes are often used by businesses as extensions of marketing campaigns, to deliver promo codes, or to take users to a web site. However, given how easy they are to create, they’re also becoming more popular for personal use, like party invites and relaying contact information. Meanwhile, companies like the BBC are not only using QR codes to promote their programs, but have also started customizing their QR codes with their own logos. Because of the amount of data that QR codes can contain, they’ll function properly even if a significant chunk is obscured, depending on the size and placement of the logo:

In both cases, despite the presence of the logos, there’s enough of the QR code for a QR reader to read. The danger of adding images or logos, however, is that camera apps like Google’s will often recognize the image, and output info on the image itself, rather than take the user to the desired URL embedded in the QR code. Therefore, the images in the QR codes above were altered in ways to fool the Google app into reading only the data in the QR code.

While the QR codes above do a nice job on incorporating logos and images into the barcodes, this one made for Louis Vuitton and artist Takashi Murakami blows other QR codes away. It’s more like a piece of art that happens to have a QR code in it. If you’ve seen others great QR codes, or made some custom QR codes yourself, feel free to leave them in the comments section for all to see.

To read more on QR codes, and tips on how to use and create them, check out these pages:

13 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes for MarketingFast Company
7 things you should know about QR Codes – Educause



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7 Responses to “A quick look at Quick Response codes”

  1. Jim Shamlin says:

    I’ve noticed these QR codes here and there … and am wondering if they’re really getting much attention or use. I recall it was a decade or so ago that they first appeared, then just as soon disappeared. It seemed rather quaint and faddish then, and a bit silly now that they are coming back around after failing so miserably the first time.

    I’d qualify “failed” to be limited to consumer marketing. They seem to have done well in logistics, and most package-delivery services seem to have adopted them for the long-run. But as a marketing gimmick, they didn’t work at all. Just as the “Cue Cat” failed a few years before. (Does the fact that I even remember the “cue cat” belie my age? Anyone else?)

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say anyone should be discouraged to experiment with them – too often, people dismiss something that didn’t work the first time and neglect to “try, try again” – and perhaps now that cell phones with cameras and Web browsers are more commonplace, it will work this time around. But I do think it’s something to approach with greater reluctance and circumspection, for exactly that reason.

  2. Jim- a decade ago, I actually worked at a magazine that employed the ‘cutting edge’ Cue Cat technology by adding barcodes to their pages. At the time, I thought it was cool (a magazine linking to the Internet!), but also gimmicky. The biggest problem was that you had to go to Radio Shack to get the actual Cue Cat barcode scanner, then sit at your computer with the magazine. Additionally, to use the Cue Cat, you had to register online with your email address and location, and that turned many prospective users away.
    Today, with smart phones used as QR readers, you don’t need to be at your computer to use QR codes, and you don’t have to register with a company or provide any personal information. I think the convenience factor is the major reason QR codes are becoming popular now. They may end up being a fad that we’ll forget about in a year, but with smart phones acting as QR readers, using QR codes today is much, much easier than using the Cue Cat ten years ago. Also, most smart phones are not shaped like cats.

  3. Greg Smith says:

    Good points, everyone. I would like to add that the I observed everyone is focusing on the technology in this discussion. No matter how much a technology appears to be a fad, it is always nothing more but one of two things: 1) a communication tool, or 2) a calculator. Communication tools come and go with fads, while calculation tools always upgrade. The Cue Cat and this QR code system are communication tools to the consumer, but calculation tools for the vendors.

    When does the Consumer respond and become loyal to a communication method? When it adds a great amount of value to their life. When I tried the Cue Cat system, I experienced a newly gimmicky communication method. Great idea, but when I went through the effort, it fell on its nose for me by not adding any more valuable information or experiences than what I got from the magazine. In fact, the magazine was more exciting!

    In short, the “stickiness” of the QR code technology with the consumer will rely on how much value is delivered back to the consumer. If vendors can find a business model to give the consumer something fantastic for free and without forcing more advertising at them, then I think the tool will be widely adopted like lightning by the consumer, and hence, the calculations created by the tool for the vendor would reap huge rewards by way of adding prediction and reachability of their consumers / fans for years to come!

  4. Norma Vela says:

    Didn’t Google already abandon QR codes and move to something else – http://dsinsights.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-googles-abandoning-qr-codes-in.html

  5. Thx for tutorial. Got inspired and created my own QR-code with logo and gfx elements:

  6. Eva says:

    Scott Bartell asked about how many people scan QR codes. Here’s some recent research I came across on that:

    *52% have seen or heard of QR codes
    *28% have actually scanned a code
    *6% say QR code has led to a purchase
    I heard of QR Codes from
    How about you?

  7. John says:

    Thanks all!

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