QR Codes in 2016

The relationship between traditional and online media is an ongoing area of interest to me. The two have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communication, they also have the potential to compliment and support each other. I believe that this potential can only be realised if the reader/viewer/user is able to transition from one form of media to another. In terms of making this transition from print media to a webpage, Quick Response (QR) codes seemed to offer us a way to facilitate this.

It must have been around ten years ago when I first learned of QR codes, I was working for a marketing agency back then. At this time it seemed like a no-brainer to include these codes in the magazine ads and the like that I was working on. I mean, an interactive call to action. How cool is that? As I write this in 2016, to be honest, I’m still excited about QR codes. It feels more like a guilty pleasure these days though. Outside of personal, experimental work, I can’t remember the last time I included a QR code in something I was working on. The reason for this can be partly explained quite simply: Outside of personal, experimental work, I can’t remember the last time I scanned a QR code.

The QR code experience, or at least the expectation of it, has become one so unfulfilling that it doesn’t even warrant the effort it takes to open an app and raise your arm. Jumped upon by marketeers, seeing it as another way to drive traffic to their webpages (that I think it’s safe to say, during the time of the QR code ascendancy, were probably unusable on a mobile device), QR became something to be ignored on a regular basis.

A study published in International Journal of Business, Humanities and Technology, December 2014, sought to understand the extent of QR code adoption by consumers, using the adoption model:

knowledge, persuasion, decision/implementation, and confirmation.

The results showed that knowledge of QR codes was very high within the sample.

93% of the respondents reported that they had seen QR codes somewhere.

Due to mobile devices not generally coming with native QR readers, persuasion comes in the form of users having to download an app before being able to scan any codes. The study found that:

59% of all individuals surveyed have downloaded a QR code reader on their smart phone

In terms of decision/implementation:

The percentage of all sample respondents who tried a QR code was 46%

So perhaps unsurprisingly, most people who downloaded a reader app, went on to scan a code. Why 13% of the sample downloaded a reader but never tried it is unclear. A suggestion that comes to mind is that they liked the concept, but were never compelled but a specific invitation to use it.

To test confirmation, respondents who had tried QR codes at least once were asked if “they planned to continue to use them”.

53% said that they were likely to continue to use the codes.

Also, importantly

82% felt that QR code technology had worked satisfactorily.

While it’s difficult to draw conclusions about those people who had never used a QR code - maybe they didn’t know how, maybe they weren’t compelled, a picture does emerge of those people who had used them. As a large majority of people reported that the “technology had worked satisfactorily”, we must conclude that for most of the 47% of people unlikely to continue to use QR codes, the experience/content provided by the publisher of the code was not worth the effort of the user.

While it’s easy to understand why QR usage might not have lived up to the hype (yet), I believe it still has a place in communication design. Given a compelling reason to scan, and an appropriate resulting experience, there’s still scope for rewarding experiences with QR codes.

Sam Smith

Designer, coder & photographer. Works at Mint Canary & Open Knowledge.