QR Codes should delight you

I love using QR Codes for what I believe their intended purpose is — to transfer a short string of data to somebody’s smart phone. Specifically, a URL for a responsively designed web site. Single-purpose mobile optimized web pages are ok in some circumstances too, but that’s a topic for another post.

There is no more efficient way to get a person to open a specific web page on their smart phone from the physical world. In fact, nothing else comes close. Not augmented reality. Not Google Goggles Search. Nothing can touch QR Codes for sending a person to a specific web page on their smart phone from outside their smart phone.

Considerations for arguments against QR Codes

There is a noticeable anti QR Code sentiment among designers, developers, marketers, and famous technology critics. Here are some positions I disagree with.

QR Codes are are ugly on products/packaging

Bar codes are ugly too. So are disclaimers, surgeon general warnings, and many brand identities for that matter. If a QR Code is taking over a design then it’s a design failure. It does not take away from the purpose of the QR code.

I don’t know where the QR Code is going to take me

You don’t know where a URL is going to take you either. You have clicked on hyperlinks that say “click here” a million times since 1996. If anything, you should expect that the marketer or product manager who slapped that QR Code on the package has put together something special for you on a web page that will work well on your smart phone. If a QR Code burns you, feel free to call out whoever produced it on your social media platform of choice.

I just use URL-shorteners

Great for Twitter, but you would still have to type the URL into a smart phone browser address bar. Also, they require a pass-through the URL-shortening server, and you can’t tell the final address until you arrive (same as a QR Code).

By the time I get my QR Code scanning app open, the bus drives off

I could not agree more with this. QR Codes on anything that you can’t hold in your hand, require conditions to be perfect for you to scan them. When was the last time conditions were perfect for anything? Exactly. However, product packaging, print, even signage; they all let you control conditions until the scanner app is ready to scan. I admit to cringing every time I see a QR Code on the side of a bus.

More on QR Codes you can hold

This is the use case where QR Codes shine. You have a person with a smart phone, holding an object they want to know more about. The producer of that object has prepared a web page (or entire website) that works properly on a smart phone. By “properly”, I mean a responsively designed website that provides the best experience on any device — after all the person who scans the QR Code might want to Tweet, email, bookmark, or share the page in some other way. The person with the smart phone scans the QR Code and gets the exact web page they need within the context of the object they are holding in their hand. There was no hassle due to typing, moving QR Codes, a crowd of people to navigate, etc. Just the shortest path from wanting to know more about an object to getting that information.

QR Codes don’t suck, bad implementations do

I’m going to wrap with the idea that, there’s probably a few dozen ways to use QR Codes to make people really glad you did, and about a million ways to make them wish you hadn’t bothered. People in charge of delighting customers run the risk of messing up the implementation of any technology. Don’t blame the technology itself. Nobody said slapping QR Codes on everything was a good idea. I say slapping them on the right objects for the right reasons is a brilliant idea.