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.