QR Codes: Dead or Alive?

Are QR codes dead?

Seen any QR codes lately on higher ed materials? They seemed all the rage for the last few years, but now technology folks are saying the trend is fading. Research shows, however, that people all around the world are actively creating and scanning QR codes.

According to an August 2012 report by Nellymoser Inc., a mobile marketing company in Arlington, Massachusetts, the number of mobile action codes printed in the top 100 U.S. magazines more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. The study was limited to national titles readily available on newsstands that did not require membership, such as AARP. Nellymoser analyzed every page in each issue of the top 100 magazines. The result was a 61% increase in code use from Q1 2012 to Q2 2012. Seventeen’s September 2012 issue contained more than 250 activated images. GQ’s September issue activated every advertising page. Check out the research details here

What if you’re not a magazine editor? How else are QR tags being used in higher ed? At Washington and Lee University, IT Services members donned t-shirts imprinted with QR codes that when scanned led to web pages with helpful information like passwords and how to contact the help desk. Hamilton College in New York used a giant QR tag with the single word “Hamilton” underneath for a recruitment poster. Lebanon Valley College put up banners with QR tags to update students about campus construction progress.

Yes, QR codes have been overused, misused, and abused, and unhappy user experience has tarnished the brand. The technology is a bit clunky since you need to download a code reader to your phone, and not all are reliable. In spite of these negatives, I think QR tags are set for a comeback. The research shows the trends—and smart phone use is on the rise, big time. Perhaps with a new name, better technology, and new branding, we’ll see an increase in use. After all, QR codes are still the best link we have from print to web.

How not to use QR Codes

1. On a website. You wouldn’t think I’d have to mention this, but I’ve actually seen QR tags on college web pages. I won’t embarrass the schools by listing them here.

2. On banners. Ok, so this was mentioned above as a cool idea, but tags are difficult to scan if they are blowing around in the wind. 

3. To lead to complex forms. Think about this one. If you’re on a smart phone, how difficult is it going to be to fill out that college application form with your thumbs? 

4. In places where there is poor reception. Like subway platform ads. In the basement of Old Main. No reception, no link.

5. To lead to useless information. You’ll lose audience trust if you take them to something they already know, or don’t care about knowing. Give them something they can only get from the scan. And, give them an explanation of where the code will take them.

6. To lead to a miniature version of your college homepage. If you’re going to use a tag, also use responsive design. Once again, those big thumbs can’t aim that small. 

7. Tags created in rich black. Designers like to use black made from CMYK. It makes black and white photography look great. But this confuses most tag readers. When printing codes, specify black plate only.



The quaint beginnings of the high-tech brand

Early Apple, Microsoft, and Google cards.

Before they were household names, these high-tech titans introduced themselves with the curiously homey business cards above. As their brands evolved, so did their marketing. Apple changed the entire look and feel of high-tech products. In 2012, Microsoft launched a sleek rebrand, its first overhaul in 25 years. Google dropped the exclamation point and has grown its wordmark into countless whimsical iterations. Perceptions change, especially in the technological realm. What was edgy in 1975 may look corny today. How does your brand hold up in today’s high-tech world?


3D touch screens make typing easier

Anyone who owns a touch screen device knows the difficulty of re-learning to type on a flat surface. We’ve resigned ourselves to the belief that tapping tiny buttons you can’t feel is the price we pay for the cool new technology parked in our pockets. The first week with my new phone had me convinced that my fingers were abnormally wide and would never be able to type a text message in less than five minutes.

I am happy to say that help is on the way. Earlier this month at CES 2013 , the Consumer Electronic Association’s international trade show, the folks at Tactus Technology offered a solution to the touch screen problem: a tactile user interface. In the demonstration video above, keys magically pop from the touch screen when the keyboard is needed and again become flat when the keyboard is hidden. The company’s website also offers a number of examples in which this technology can be used such as remote controls, gaming devices, medical displays, automobile interfaces, and more. Expect to see this technology on the market by the end of the year or early 2014. 

Video tips and tricks


Most colleges recognize the value of admissions videos and make a point to include them on their websites. The downside is that many of these videos are poorly conceived and produced so watching them is a chore.

I talked with Bill Denison, an amazingly talented educational photographer, about making great video. With his input, I’ve put together a list of things to do to make your videos stand out—in a good way.

1. Know what you want to accomplish. Don’t just shoot and pray that something will emerge. Outline your goals. Without a clear idea of what you want to say, you could wind up with a lot of footage that never gets to the point.

2. Keep it flexible. You need an idea about where you’re going, but you also need to be flexible enough to rethink it as the project proceeds.

3. It’s about story, not technology. A good story can deliver a powerful message. Be sure you are focused on telling that story, not showing off that you have the latest zoom camera with sliders and fill lights.

4. Don’t be literal. Use video to express the story rather than merely record action. Interpret rather than document. This is where shooting style comes in. A small detail can sometimes be more powerful than showing the entire scene. Different angles can add dramatic interest. For example, showing feet descending a set of steps can be more interesting than shooting the full staircase.

5. Shoot a variety of angles. Include a variety of low and high angles, long shots, medium shots, close-ups, etc. Don’t move to the next scene until you are sure you’ve covered the subject with multiple angles and ranges. It’s always better to shoot too much than not enough.

6. Know how to roll. Documentary videos are composed of A-roll and B-roll. A-roll is the footage of the interview. It can be shot in the studio or on location, and the focus is the person speaking to the camera. B-roll is everything else—like the video that plays during an audio voice over.

7. Know when to shoot B-roll. Shoot B-roll after the interview. Why? The conversation may inspire ideas on how to shoot the person in action.

8. This is video…move! Get your subjects walking, running, or going in or out of a room. If you’re in a lab, follow the student as she gets up from the table and walks to the specimen case. Record the organic sounds around you. This adds a sense of realism to the action on camera.

9. To make great video you need to watch video. If you want to learn to draw, you study the old masters. The same is true for video. Take the time to critically assess the work of exemplary videographers.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Great concept.

Narrated by Werner Herzog, this video uses humor to tell an important story.

A simple idea that gives a glimpse into the thinking of a number of people.

From Bill Denison’s portfolio, photographic stills with voiceovers create a dynamic experience.