Reasons QR codes piss me off

Okay so this morning while in the library doing some printing and technically on holiday I was approached by a student helpery type doing a survey about designs of various signs featuring QR codes, at which I automatically rolled my eyes – and heres why.

Its not like I don’t like technology, and its not like I don’t like QR codes, I think they’re a pretty neat trick, but I generally find that when designers and QR codes interact you end up alienating a large chunk of your audience and looking like an eedjit because of some pretty basic flaws in the way they get used i.e. mostly when someone is designing a sign/poster/whatever with a QR code on it they take away all the actual information and just leave a tantalising headline and a QR code, which was the case (again) in the examples I was shown. When you do this you look like an eedjit for the following reasons:

  • Anyone who cannot or chooses not to invest their resources in a device capable of using them thinks you’re an eedjit and an elitist for excluding them
  • Anyone who doesn’t have a device capable of using them on them right there and then, charged up, with signal – thinks you’re an eedjit because you’ve given them no information, but specifically hinted there is some you won’t give them
  • Anyone who has a device that is internet capable but doesn’t do QR codes thinks you’re an eedjit because you didn’t write the URL down anywhere they can get to it
  • If all you’ve got is a QR code even without a title, context or any reason to assert you’re someone vaguely trustable then anyone with a device that understands them thinks your an eedjit because you may be trying to direct them to a URL hosting malicious information that will attempt to hijack or infect their device
  • I have no idea of the accessibility implications of QR codes, but I’m going to guess that they require you to be able to see them and hold a device upright and steady long enough to scan them – suggesting you probably aren’t winning many prizes from some people who could otherwise instruct their devices to go to a URL.

So basically if you’re going to use QR codes at least try and include them in addition to actually useful information.

4 thoughts on “Reasons QR codes piss me off

  1. idlemuse

    I generally agree. Interestingly, though, good QR codes don’t require a steady hand at all, they have extremely robust error correction, and many QR reader apps don’t require you to ‘snap’ a pic of them, just sort of vaguely point them in the right direction, which I think makes them actually farily accessible-friendly, particularly when you consider that they allow people with difficulties reading to access content in a way which they have more control over.

    A good app should also remove the annoyance of being out of signal range, by simply saving the URL, and also let you filter for malicious content; it’s only apps that, upon scanning a QR-code with a URL in, immediately try to load it that are a security risk. But I do agree about them being used poorly in so many cases.

  2. the_fnords

    I see the appeal from a designer’s viewpoint of a QR code as opposed to a URL in the specific case of things that are partly “IC” / not acknowledging that they are adverts.

    As a whole, I believe we’ve come to associate a URL with some kind of advertising or promotion or publicity. It’s such an easy way to get information to people and get them to follow up on your advert – if they remember a simple address and go to it, they’ve not only remembered your product or service, but then invested time in looking at it which predisposes them to your product or service slightly. So, web addresses are everywhere, are mundane, and are kinda “advertising” now.

    While a QR code has this air of being forwards and mysterious. They’re new (comparatively, and to the general public), and they’re information you can access but not take in at a glance. You don’t know what a QR code will be until you’ve used it. It’s clearly an attempt to share something, and clearly for the internet, but the veil over it makes it like a masonic symbol on a public building – intruiging because you know it’s there but not what it actually means. They also help suspend disbelief that this really isn’t an advert but a secret communication from those in the know to those who are watching for the signs.

    If you want to advertise your I Can’t Believe It’s Not Marblehornets vlog series, you use mysterious images with QR codes. If you’re advertising one of those, though, you’re advertising to the vlog-consuming youth who own the devices that can access these things.

    The upsides of a QR code are few, but they’re not a bad way of getting info to small devices on the go. Justin’s right, they’re robustly designed scannable things and the apps that handle them vary in quality, but there are good ones and the tech is just badly applied. Also, depending on the thing, you can just take the poster home and scan it when you’re on your own wi-fi, but at that point you may as well be googling it or typing out a URL.

    In general, though, a URL should accompany them. I don’t really need to use either, but I understand how to bloody google something. I rarely use QR codes, but I rarely use of my phone’s smart capabilities.


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