Thought Leadership

QR codes

By Colin Walls

You see them everywhere – these distinctive square graphics, that look a bit like bar-codes, but different. They are QR [Quick Response] codes. In fact that are functionally very like bar-codes, except that their two-dimensional structure gives them more flexibility and capacity.

I got curious about QR codes and started researching. I was surprised at how widely they might be applied and started having ideas for applications myself …

There is plenty of information on QR codes online – indeed they are subject to an ISO standard. The details of their implementation is quite complex, but you do not need to know all those details to make use of them. You can recognize a standard QR code by the three large square patterns in the corners, which are there to orient a scanner – so it know which way up the code is being presented.

A QR code can contain almost any type of information: numbers, text, binary data, Web URL etc. By far the most common application is to encode a website URL. This has become popular as there are smartphone apps that read a QR code and take you immediately to the website. This is very appealing to marketing folks, as it holds the potential customer’s attention – expecting someone to type in a URL, or remember to do that later, is much more unlikely.

As a general rule, it makes sense to put QR codes on printed material – books, brochures, magazine adverts, billboards, business cards etc. There is not much sense in putting them on websites, as a normal hyperlink is more straightforward.

I have been thinking about [and applying] the use of QR codes in various contexts:

* At a trade show, people are after information. Historically, that meant carrying around a heavy bag full of leaflets. Nowadays it can be simpler. Many vendors put QR codes on displays in their booth, so that a visitor with a smart phone can leave the show with no heavy burden, but have all the information that they need. I wondered whether it might be cool to have booth staff wear [temporary] tattoos of QR codes on their arms.

* I had noticed that it was quite common, during presentations, for members of the audience to photograph the screen, thus getting a copy of interesting slides. With that in mind, it is now my practice to include a [large] QR code on my last slide.

* My wife’s family own a holiday home in England, which is let out for some of the year. I manage the bookings and some “marketing”. I made some simple postcards, which can be left around where interested people might find them. They include the URL of the property information website, but I also added a QR code to make it even easier.

I am sure that more uses for QR codes will come along …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at