By now you’ve probably heard someone talking about QR codes. You’ve probably seen plenty of them on advertising, interpretation, restaurant menus, business cards, even clothing and packaging. In spite of their proliferation, many people don’t know exactly what one is and how it can be used as an interpretive tool. A 2011 study found that 67% of people have seen a QR code, but 43% of people don’t know what one is – quite a disparity.
If you’re an INNZ member you’ve probably already had a conversation about QR codes with someone else from within the network, and still come out confused. Hopefully this blog and the guide on the INNZ website member’s section will help to clear the confusion.
First up, what’s a QR code?
Quick Response (QR) codes are symbols that link to digital content in a similar way that barcodes link to prices and product information. Looking a bit like a group of barcodes having a party, QR codes are interpreted using a smartphone application which reads the QR code and links to the content aligned with it.
Why would you use QR codes?
Well, QR codes enable you to present multiple layers of information in multiple formats (image, text, video, etc.) without requiring you to include additional digital media players, signage, and so on in your interpretive programmes. By simply placing a QR code within your space, visitors can use their own technology to scan and engage with the content it links to. Did I mention they’re free to use too? There are hundreds of websites that will create codes for you and you only need a web address to enable your code to lead visitors somewhere. It’s digital media at its zenith: free and uses the power of the internet to function without, necessarily, having to create unique content.
Before you exclaim “it’s free, and I don’t have to create any content? I’m in!”, wait, there’s more. Here at INNZ, we’ve seen too many QR codes that lead to content visitors could more easily navigate to with a link or web address. Others have taken the notion of creating another layer of content too far and link codes to complex, technical content that will give you mental indigestion if you try and take it in via a smartphone. It’s also important to remember that not everyone has a smartphone and, if your content is QR-exclusive, you could be alienating your audience who aren’t bringing their own device. As the stat in the opening highlights, many people don’t know what QR codes are which means many people don’t know how to scan them. So, if you’re going to implement them, make sure you institute a good education programme for potential users! For an insight into the worst of QR codes click here.
Ok, so what’s a good use of QR codes?
QR codes are a useful tool but they need to be considered as a part of your interpretive programme. The most successful uses reward people for going to the extra effort of scanning with unique content. Visitors are also unlikely to walk around a large site with their smartphone continually in-hand and scanning, but targeted discrete experiences can lead to increased engagement and understanding. Even though a QR code can enable you to link to more information, or provide visitors with an avenue to continue to engage with your content offsite, the content still needs to be appropriate for smartphone-sized screens and attention spans.
Interpreters around the world have been exploring and using QR codes for well over 5 years now – we’ve been a little slow to adopt in New Zealand – and the results are still a bit mixed. In fact, they’re being overtaken by other digital options in many places and beacons, which use Bluetooth to ‘push’ content out to users, are growing in popularity. That being said, there is a place for QR codes so, if you’re exploring their use in your own interpretive programmes, make sure you’re using them for the right reasons and have a sound strategy for your overall programme. When used with a bit of imagination and as part of a cohesive programme they can tell stories in unique and innovative ways.