QR Code Do’s and Don’ts

Categories: Shop Talk

Posted by: admin


QR CodeQR codes, Matrix Barcodes, Smart Tags, 2-D Barcodes, weird little crossword puzzle glyphs… whatever you call them, they are undeniably popping up everywhere. Originally developed in Japan as a machine-readable tag used to track parts in manufacturing, QR (Quick Response) codes are an improvement over the standard barcode we are used to seeing on everything we buy. The QR code can store a larger amounts of data. Now that companies are jumping on the QR bandwagon, we are seeing them appear on posters, advertisements, fliers, and even as graffiti stencils and stickers employed by tech-savvy taggers on sidewalks and bathroom stalls.

As with any tech fad, increased saturation of these strange little boxes raises a number of questions: “What are these things?” “Should I be taking advantage of QR codes?” “Do people even use these things?” Before you run out and start plastering the city with your own QR codes, I’d like to address some best-practice advice, based on things I’ve seen out in the wild.

1) Make sure your target user knows what to do.
Just because QR codes are appearing everywhere doesn’t mean it’s safe to assume that most people know how to properly activate them. One reason they are starting to take off is because enough people have access to smart phones that can run the applications required to scan them. But how many people know that you need a special application to read these codes?

I saw one embarrassingly bad example on a bank advertisement in a train station last year. The ad proudly displayed a QR code with the tagline, “Take a picture of this code with your phone to find out more!” I’m sure this misleading instruction led to more than a few confused users, as simply taking a photo of the QR code produces no result (besides a new photo on your camera roll). Any potential customer who did not know they needed special software to “scan” the code was a failed conversion in this example.

Another troubling usage was a pamphlet for computer training courses with the headline “Suffering from computer-phobia?!” The ad then featured a prominent QR code with the line “weekly courses starting now!”, implying that the QR code contained a link to signup. Now what computer-phobic person would be able to activate this QR code and sign up for the class is beyond me…

QR codes suffer from the same challenge as shortened URLs. While they are a more efficient way to package data, they don’t give the end user any clue as to what the end result will be (unlike a traditional URL, which if properly planned should give a user some clue). Unless you are using QR codes in an explorative nature, be sure to give the user some indication of what to expect upon scanning your code.

2) Make sure they work.
Once you have a user with the means and know-how to activate your QR code, and they are motivated to do so, make sure that the code actually works! Print designers have long known the value of triple-checking their work, because once something goes to print, no more edits can be made. Web designers, on the other hand, are constantly tweaking code, editing copy, changing graphics, and making numerous other adjustments. A website is a constantly changing and evolving entity (unless we’re talking about the Space Jam site, hello 1996!) When dealing with QR codes, web designers would be advised to take a print design approach, because once that code has been created and printed, there is no updating the data contained within.

I was recently waiting in a rather long line at a wine and spirits store, trying to kill time while waiting to make my way up to the counter. As I browsed the shelves in front of me, my eyes landed on an advertisement affixed to the shelf next to a bottle of top-shelf bourbon. The placard said, “See how we make each barrel of our fine whiskey” with a QR code next to it. I excitedly pulled out my phone to scan the card and watch the video, this being just the thing I needed to kill time. However, upon scanning, my phone pulled up a ‘404 – page not found’ error on their site instead of the video I was expecting. In my mind, in one second they went from tech savvy whiskey distillers to a company with embarassingly poor attention to detail. Any chance to convert me to a customer in that moment was immediately soured. So make sure your QR codes work!

3) Give the user an experience optimized for their device.
So you’ve got your user with the means and know-how, they are motivated to activate your code, and your code has been thoroughly tested and works as intended. They scan your code with their mobile device, and suddenly they are browsing a website optimized for a desktop browser. Your user is pinching and zooming to try and see your content. They’re trying to click buttons designed for a mouse, not a human finger. Maybe they get frustrated and just go somewhere else.

Let’s think about this for a minute: how many potential users will be activating your QR code with a desktop computer? If you answered anything other than ‘zero’, you’ve got some wild ideas about your potential users. So then why would you send them to a full size web page instead of something optimized for the screen of their mobile device? As obvious as this may seem now, I’ve lost count of the times a QR code has sent me to a desktop page. It gives the impression that you haven’t fully thought out your QR strategy. If your site has a mobile-optimized solution, point your user to that. If you don’t, this is a great excuse to get started with one!

So, where do we go from here?
These observations are based entirely on my own experiences with QR codes. I love the idea of the technology, and I hate to see it misused. Hopefully these points have given you a few things to consider before you move forward with QR codes in your next campaign, and you can avoid the obvious mistakes. When used properly, QR codes can be a powerful shortcut that gives your user valuable information.

I was recently shopping for a new stereo, and each product had a QR code next to it on the shelf. Scanning the QR code brought me to a screen optimized  for my phone, with the full specs of each device and cost comparisons to other models. This is exactly the extra depth of information that can help convert someone into a customer (I walked out with a stereo that day).

And there are lots of other innovative uses for QRs that are coming out every day. They can be used for interactive tours and art instillations. They are showing up on apparel. People are even finding innovative ways to work their logo into a QR code. So when you have your breakthrough QR idea, contact us here at I-SITE and let us help you realize your vision in a professional and successful way!