43

I recently had a discussion with a client. He asked me if I felt a QR code on a marketing piece would be beneficial.

I asked him, "What would the code contain? What information would the code convey?"
His general response was "contact information".
To which I replied, "When was the last time you scanned a QR code?"
His answer... "Actually, I've never scanned one."

So I got to wondering . . .

In what circumstances or in what usage is a QR code in design worthwhile? Are there any?

And if so, what types of data are useful in that setting?

Or, in other words, what are the best practices for usage of QR codes?

To me, I could see them used as coupons or some other redeemable item, but beyond that I find them ugly, useless, and largely just trendy.

When I ask everyone I know if they scan them, I have yet to find anyone who ever has. Granted, that may just be my circle of people though.

  • 2
    The only reason ive ver read QR codes was to obtain the local timetable for a bus stop and that was ~10 years ago. So no dont use, but you better ask kids. – joojaa Jul 29 '15 at 12:33
  • 2
    The only somewhat useful usage for qr codes that I've see. Is game dvd's that contain a qr code that leads to a trailer of the game. There has also been a text near it telling you to watch the trailer or something, so you know what's there. --- I was personally pretty fed up with qr codes as soon as they became a thing. The reason is exactly this. Everybody just wants to use them without any thought. – Joonas Jul 29 '15 at 12:45
  • 32
  • 4
    I think that ux.stackexcahnge has some great, supplemental, discussion on this topic: Post 1 , Post 2 , Post 3 , Funny Post :-) – MonkeyZeus Jul 29 '15 at 19:54
  • 5
    I never intend, if possible, to manually write an URL on my phone. If you want people to actually end up on your site, you'd better put a qrcode. – o0'. Jul 31 '15 at 17:31

12 Answers 12

25

QR codes can be valuable tools if there's a real incentive to use it. Augmented Reality, Coupons, and Time-Sensitive Content are the primary things that come to mind. And really above all, and worth repeating, is time-sensitive.

The important thing before putting it in a piece of marketing collateral is considering - where and when is this QR code going to be seen?

This for example, while not the most eloquent design, would be an ideal usage:

Trail Picture

When do you need the map? When you're there. It's providing time-sensitive content (presumably, I didn't actually scan this).

I've also seen, and one of the few times I've scanned, a display ad in a Vegas mall which enticed me by offering a coupons for Mall eateries by scanning and a chance to win a free meal. Sorry don't have a photo of that. Again it was time-sensitive to where I was AND offered me an incentive. Win-win.

At Trade Shows / Conventions QR Codes can do even more things beyond the time-sensitive content delivery. It can be used to create all new experiences. Playing demo videos, creating scavenger hunts, interactive displays are just a few ways to integrate them in these more physical environments.

Here's a nice write-up about effective QR campaigns in Trade shows. - ExhibitorLive: Cracking the Code


Ultimately effective QR codes should be used on Marketing Collateral where mobile is dominant. If its a mail flyer for example then its being read at a desk. A URL would be just as if not more effective. But once you step out into the built environment QR codes can open up many new and exciting possibilities.

Its really a matter of discussing with your client how much space will need to be allocated, how it will affect the overall design, and what the goal is.

16

Lets see what scientists have to say shall we, the paper titled "How Do You Scan? - The Emergence and Development of the QR-Code Scanning Practice in China, Sweden and the USA". It asserts that QR codes are less popular in the west than in Asian countries. The paper states that only about 35% of people with smartphones in USA have ever scanned a QR code (and this is based on a survey done by eMarketer in 2013).

So my take after reading the paper is: half of 35% about 17% can be enticed to read a QR code. Whether they use QR code depends on what the QR code gives you. So if the context is complex and useful like a coupon, maybe my own name/location of bus stop for timetable info. So in order for persons to use QR codes there has to be a tangible benefit. This may also in my opinion explain the Asian dimension: as Asian languages are hard to type, it's much easier to scan the data. Even so, most of the QR code usage is Asia is related to connecting friends on a site called weChat (which users strongly identify code for).

So if you use it for mobile payment, or something like that it might work... not so much for contact details, as they are easy to find with company name. So they may have some uses, but not much as web links only for contacts. That is likely a fail.

  • 14
    Note that "35% have EVER scanned a QR" is quite different from "35% routinely scan QRs", which is quite different still from "35% will scan YOUR QR". – Jay Jul 29 '15 at 13:28
  • 2
    How do you get from "35% have ever read a QR code" to "17% of people can be enticed to read a QR code"? – David Richerby Jul 29 '15 at 14:47
  • @DavidRicherby 35% of people with smartphones. Smartphones are roughly half of all people according to the articles data. – joojaa Jul 29 '15 at 15:22
  • 1
    @joojaa And how do you get from "17% of people have ever read a QR code" to "17% of people can be enticed to read a particular QR code"? – David Richerby Jul 29 '15 at 16:28
  • 2
    @DavidRicherby that means that under some conditions the possible audience is at maximum 17% most likely much smaller than that. – joojaa Jul 29 '15 at 16:29
15

QR codes are essentially a different way to link to content. If used correctly, sometimes it's easier for mobile users to scan a QR code than type it in, especially if it's too long or hard to type. If possible, it is best to provide a QR code in addition to the actual URL because some people can't or don't want to scan QR codes. As always, you want to have readable and short URLs anyway.

QR codes are best used to with a specific type of link which specifically with where the QR code is placed. This could be a link giving more information about a particular product, connect people to another person or business on a specific mobile application or social media site (not just a link to a business' website or social media page), local campaigns (such as a walk in deal for a restaurant), for more information about displays, linking to survey, adding information to a user's account (ex. adding a plant to an online listing of plants owned), linking users to where a mobile app can be downloaded, and giving more information about the content of some large poster (when placed on something static like a wall people walk by).

QR codes should almost always be paired with analytics by using UTM tracking codes attached to the URL, which would usually makes the URL kind of ugly, but since they're scanning it as a picture it doesn't matter.

As with everything, if you're worried about it not being helpful, A/B test to see if it's effective for your business. People do use them even though they say they don't so long as it's an appropriate usage.


Here are some guidelines as to how to use them well:

  • As mentioned above, use them to link to something dealing specifically with where the QR code is scanned.

  • Never used QR codes as a replacement for content - only use them to link to something that cannot be completed there or as additional content if desired.

  • Use them in places where people should have their phones available. Also only place them on something that they can easily take pictures of (not on a moving car, billboard, or in the middle of a busy sidewalk).

  • Make sure whatever you're pointing users to is mobile-friendly as only mobile devices will be viewing it. Also make sure it works across all platforms.

  • The QR code must be available for scanning for at least half of a minute - print is best because it doesn't stop showing (another reason to pair it with a visual URL).

  • Don't use QR codes on a website, just use a link.

  • If you're linking to something that needs internet connection, make sure the QR code is in a place that has internet connection.

  • It's usually bad to put QR codes on something very flimsy such as a plastic wrapper because it can become wrinkly and not scan correctly or easily.

  • Don't place them on something transparent like a window without no solid color background.

  • Make sure the link actually works even in the future because, like any broken link, it leads to a bad user experience if they put in the effort to visit and get no content.

  • 1
    From your link above the checklist: it will be a mobile device, so the landing page better be mobile friendly. – Yorik Jul 29 '15 at 15:33
  • 5
    +1 for "Don't use QR codes on a website". I always feel like punching my phone when I'm browsing a website and it puts a big QR code on my screen and tells me to scan it. "And how, pray tell, do you expect me to do that, when my camera is on the back of my phone?" – Dan Henderson Jul 30 '15 at 2:17
  • @DanHenderson Would it make any difference if the camera was on the front of your phone? – Vince O'Sullivan Jul 30 '15 at 9:20
  • 1
    @VinceO'Sullivan no, because (a) I'm guessing QR codes won't scan when mirrored, and (b) opening the scanner app will take the web page off the screen anyway. So I'd have to grab a hypothetical second phone to scan it. – Dan Henderson Jul 30 '15 at 11:48
  • 1
    I would like to add: also offer a non-QR-code way of accessing the content. That goes hand in hand with e.g. Dan Henderson's initial comment above. Assume that not everyone will be able to use the QR code, and consider whether adding some other representation of the same information (say, a URL) might possibly be useful. – a CVn Jul 31 '15 at 14:20
11

One example where I have seen QR codes put to good use is when you need to transfer a complex piece of information from a computer to a mobile device (where it is hard to type 20-character random strings).

For instance, Microsoft uses it to pair their two-factor authentication app with a Microsoft account.

I think Yelp also uses QR codes to identify businesses.

For something like business cards, there is another consideration; it may make sense to put a QR code on even if nobody ever scans it. The mere fact that there is a QR code sends a message. What the specific message is probably depends on the context.

You could also create an incentive to scan the QR code - something like a discount coupon or a raffle entry.

Oh, and I have scanned quite a few QR codes, mostly URLs. There are several reasons I rarely do it now:

  • Few people ever put useful good content into QR codes. Obviously, a chicken-and-egg problem.
  • Non-URL content often has compatibility issues. Scanning contact information can be useful.
  • My mobile usage has changed; I don't even use my mobile devices for Web browsing any more; I went back to mostly working PC/laptop based. My mobile devices are back to being single-taskers. My Android phone is nothing but a phone with occasional email capability, and my Android tablet is my mileage tracker, my fancy calculator, my WiFi analyzer, my GPS system, and a few other things.
  • My tablet's camera is very poor quality and does not reliably capture QR codes.
  • Strong agreement with this answer. 2FA is an excellent use case—actually the only good use case I can think of—because they know you're using an app that scans QR codes at that very moment. Otherwise my workflow (if I reeeeally need to scan) involves deleting the scanning app right after using it. – Ricky Aug 1 '15 at 12:36
7

Quick experiential feedback.

QRs are a waste for marketers

In a marketing context, over the past 10+ years, I've tested QRs in use and spoken with many others who have done the same. The consensus has almost always been: make better use of the space because no one will follow it.

The one and only exception I've heard was some Catholic merch company who got a noticeable amount of traffic from QRs in their catalog. There's always an exception.

The key principal of QRs is that some URL is hard for people to remember or type. To the first point: people don't have to remember URLs anymore because the internet is in their pocket. To the second, get a better URL.

Conditions to test it (in marketing)

In those rare cases where ...

  1. There is rich content that is difficult to incorporate
  2. It is of considerable use/desirability to the user
  3. The user is in such a context that typing a [very short] URL is undesirable

You should test it. It's still not a reliable way to get engagement. Your goal with the test is to capture a small percentage of highly motivated users who are worth the effort and visual noise.

Where it makes perfect sense

Since this thread has stretched beyond the OP's scope (marketing collateral), let's talk about where it does make sense: digital products.

QR codes were designed for warehousing workflows (a kanban process at Toyota, IIRC). There was a dedicated scanner and a flexible code with excellent optical error resistance. Quick and easy. So how can we apply that model to other contexts?

Perfect scenario: Connecting a mobile app to anther device, app, or widget in this age of IoT. The reader and unique code generator are embedded in your app because the standard is open (no licensing woes). And it makes the tethering / connection process dead simple.

AirDroid is a great example. To tether a phone to the web or desktop app, just open the app on your phone and scan the code on the desktop. Voila! (ignore the red box, that's just for tutorial purposes)

AirDroid's QR code implementation

That's how you do QR right!

Once we have something like NFC broadly supported, this can go away too.

  • 1
    Yes this is true, but if your catalog has a link for every item, it might be convenient in some cases (urls might get complicated or so). Major problem being that QR's are pain to read. If every picture app in the world would make qr codes readable that would be a different thing. Then i might bother. – joojaa Jul 29 '15 at 20:05
  • Possibly useful in catalogs. But if your print to web use case is big, wouldn't an easy way to enter item #s or prod names be more usable? – plainclothes Jul 29 '15 at 22:51
  • 1
    What areas and mediums did you test on? – Ryan Jul 30 '15 at 13:27
  • 2
    @Ryan Print marketing. In order of volume: catalogs, mailer cards, brochures, in-store collateral, trade show displays, ... probably something else I'm forgetting. I don't have the hard #s now, but the catalogs got the highest response: less than a percent. Some codes were incentivized with offers, some were expanded info. Big surprise: offers worked better. – plainclothes Jul 30 '15 at 16:35
  • Nice edit! Hadn't seen that before but makes great sense. – Ryan Jul 31 '15 at 17:25
6

QR codes are rarely used in the US but they are used a lot in Japan, China and Korea. I put a QR code on my business card. It links to my website. I think of it as a stamp - analogous to stamps used with wax back in the day to authenticate ones signature; or like the red-ink stamps used in China, Japan, Korea.

In the US people look at my card and they go - "hey, looks good." It's perceived more like artwork, as an icon. In a year and 100s of cards given out at Meetups etc... I was unaware of anyone going to my site via the card.

I was just in China and the perception was much different. A large percentage of people took out their phones on the spot and scanned the QR code. I was sooo glad that I had finished the mobile-version of my site otherwise their reaction would have been very negative. (My old site didn't translate well to mobile.)

The perception, the awareness, the comfort level regarding QR codes is far different in other countries.

  • 3
    Yes this is very true. QR codes are used in China because URLs have always been difficult there due to language issues. Here's an article about it: medium.com/chrysaora-weekly/… – Ryan Jul 30 '15 at 14:13
4

Honestly, I can’t remember scanning QR codes recently.

The only time when I would use it if there is some sort of call to action behind the code and I know about it. Of course there should be some sort of guidance that inspire me to fire up scanning app on my phone and scan the actual QR code.

There is also motivation factor, why would I scan the code, what would be desired result of such an action etc… maybe placing contact info behind the code might not be best idea. People often remember names, phrases, symbols, slogans, images… but rarely the information behind QR code.

Design wise, it is not always good choice, unless it is implemented in some unique creative way.

That’s just my opinion and it is based on my experience working with the clients and users.

  • 1
    Only time I've used them was for provisioning devices and inventory management systems. That's it. It should only ever be used for content which can not easily be communicated without some external interface or medium such as a platform which leverages unique IDs (Google Authenticator) or rapid capture/input of complex strings of characters. Forcing a user to snap a photo to get a map is VERY poor UX. Does iOS have a QR code reader? Does the user have a phone? Is their phone charged? Is it going to cost them data to download the app? Can they download the app? Just show the map. – elCavador Jul 30 '15 at 1:27
4

The only time I have ever scanned a QR was when I was playing with QRs to see how they work. Yes, it was fun to create a QR for one of my own websites and then scan it in. Worth 10 minutes of amusement, and that was about it. I've never scanned one because I wanted whatever value it would scan.

I can see the value of using a QR code that's a web link. I'm sure we've all had times that we tried to copy a link that we've seen written and we mis-copied it. A QR would eliminate that problem. Whether it's a link to a page with more information about whatever, a coupon, etc.

I can comprehend value in a QR that lets you scan an address and phone number into your cell phone. I doubt I would ever scan such a QR, but maybe others would. If, say, there was an ad for a store that I wanted to visit that had a QR with the address, I would likely just take the ad with me and read the address off the paper, rather than scan it into my phone and then have to turn the phone on and bring up the contact list to see the address. But others are more cell-bound than I. If I could scan a QR-coded address into my GPS ... maybe possibly.

For anything else I'd consider it pretty iffy.

2

QR codes are a good use in public places, like parks, malls, cities, fares where a code can embody the information about an event/location/rules etc... In any other business use I think it has failed to grasp its traction, people are slowly moving away from it because it was a poor UX design, you need a 3rd party scanner ( most of the time ) as an app to be able to process the code. I agree with people on this thread it is ugly and unnecessary. One instance I saw where it was a cool, few years ago a small wine company used QR code as their label on their wines, scanning it told the story of the winery and gave more info on the wine itself. That was a good example of usability mixed with design.

1

For marketing these are becoming useless. Sure there was a brief moment in time when everybody used these and many people had an app on their phone to scan QR's, but just like the <table> in HTML, QR's are becoming obsolete and only useful for very specific purposes.

Remember back in the day when entire websites were built using <tables>, while now this tag is only used for what its supposed to be used, actual tabular data and only when that is needed (specific purpose).

I have used QR codes occasionally on brochures and the client came back to update the design and remove the QR, because some people just don't know what it is and the ones who do know, they don't bother with this.

1

I didn't read all the answers and maybe this is already in one of them. This is not a point of view but the reason why I am obligated to put the QR codes in my designs even though I do not like them at all.

I make catalogs and flyers for very technical and specialized products companies. These products have very particular characteristics that influence when purchasing:

  • There are usually products with new features or they are renewed year after year and in some cases from one month to the next
  • New working methodologies with their respective new products appear periodically
  • There are usually very similar products but with different functionality for each case
  • In many cases the client needs these products because they know what they are used for but they don't know how to use them
  • Many of these products are related, one of them is needed to use the next and the customer should know that

For all these reasons and many others that I am sure I don't remember, in each printed product I must place the QR code with the instructions or the "how to use" demonstration video like this example:

enter image description here

-1

Qr code became one of the most common things now days , one of the reason for its popularity is huge up surge of smartphone usage. even the technology is advancing day by day , we have recently saw ad from Google stating translate just by scanning, this implies that technology is getting much better and simple ,which can be used for several different situations. Qr is one of the situation where one can scan the information, Directly instead of storing it somewhere and retrieving it, it actually reduces the time of searching as the Qr directly indicates person to the appropriate information. The search by scan is really a very good idea

  • Welcome to Graphic Design SE. Unfortunately I fail to see how your answer addresses the actual question, which was asking about the cost-benefit ratio of QR codes, not what a QR code is. – Wrzlprmft Aug 2 '15 at 17:20
  • Yes I meant to say that there is a vast usage so obviously implementing will give you a good chance of improving benefits , but I took it a bit of technical – Sampath Aug 2 '15 at 17:28
  • @Sam when you say massive usage, I assume you mean by companies printing them on various objects. But do you have stats that show actual end users engaging with them at a high rate? – plainclothes Aug 4 '15 at 17:48
  • Question was: "In what circumstances or in what usage is a QR code in design worthwhile? Are there any?" @Sam responded to this in an objective way. Problem with QR is they were used by designers on biz cards while they had no real information to share. What Sam suggests is the QR should be used for a higher level than "here's my email and phone number." +1 – go-junta Aug 6 '15 at 22:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.