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A QR (Quick Response) code is a two-dimensional visual structure (see above) that can be registered with a digital camera in a portable device. Most typically, these devices would be smartphones and tablet computers such as the iPhone, iPad, the Samsung Galaxy or the Blackberry PlayBook. QR codes can be directly linked to the increasing popularity of these devices – sales of smartphones and tablets already exceeded sales of PCs in 2011 and tablet sales alone are projected to equal PC sales by 2015.1 This renders the mobile camera (a feature of the smartphone and the tablet computer) increasingly important. The purpose in developing the use of QR codes is to leverage this projected increased use of the digital mobile camera. Of course, these mobile cameras will still be used to take photos and videos of users and friends at parties, rallies, on holidays etc, but the opportunities to access digital media via the mobile camera (including but not just with QR codes) can enhance business, public spaces, museum exhibition and cultural organization. There are many advantages to using QR codes. They are free of licenses.2 They are clearly defined and published as an ISO standard. Their use is also becoming increasingly popular. A study that suggests that, during the month of June 2011, 14 million mobile users in the United States scanned a QR code or a barcode. Some 58% of those users scanned a QR or bar code from their home, while 39% scanned from retail stores.3 All train tickets issued by the Chinese rail authority have featured QR codes since 2009; they now also feature on Eurostar train tickets.
1 David Maier, 6 Oct 2011, “Sales of Smartphones and Tablets to Exceed PCs”, at
2 Denso Wave owns the patent rights on QR codes, but has chosen not to exercise them.
3 See ComScore, 14 million Americans Scanded a QR Code on their Mobile Phones in June 2011
We analyse the advantages of QR codes in the following ways: (1) To utilize digital space; (2) To leverage existing media; and (3) To be a design object.
(1) Utilization of digital space Physical space, particularly in crowded urban areas, is limited. There is, for example, only so much wall space to place advertisements. Physical spaces can be, of course, expanded with technology, such as sliding billboards (where multiple advertisements can slide one over the other to be screened in a single wall space). But constraints still apply (there is only so much wall space to place sliding billboards, they can only contain so much information etc). Space is multi-dimensional, and digital space is one such dimension (along with, for example, cyberspace, media space etc). For the purposes of QR codes, we see this digital space as being mobile screen space – ie space in the screen of a user’s mobile device. This space, in turn, gives us numerous affordances to display, present and exhibit digital content, content which we propose can enhance a business or extend the use of a public space. How is this content provided by the QR code? It is as if the QR-code is a very smart switch. While the code itself does not hold much information, it contains characters, which provide instructions for downloading, uploading, linking, streaming, updating, GIS positioning, and running programs. Whereas a linear bar code may accommodate 128 characters, a 2D QR code can comprise of as many as 7,089 characters and can be as large as 177 by 177, allowing for 31,329 dots. That is enough space for about 3KB, even allowing for position, alignment, timing, version, and formatting information,4 which is enough to provide instructions to pull up most digital content; script downloading and streaming, open to content, communicate between devices and allow for input of content from users.
1 page -> 70 characters per line x 40 lines per page (you must include spaces and marks) 2800 characters (bytes per page) -> 2.8 KB ~ 3 KB per page. A book with 500 pages -> 3KB x 500 = 1500KB = 1.5 MB
What this achieves is easy access to a digital space with potentially limitless amount of content. As one company working with QR codes states on their website: You are not limited in terms of length, size and space. Traditional advertising works on limits. You pay for additional airtime, additional advertising space, additional newspaper columns. But fixing a QR code to your advertisement, you are literally limitless in the amount of information you can include in your ad. The first point here is the fact of digital space. You are no longer confined to your x by y square metre of wall space. Think of all the content that can be created with the affordances of digital media – interactivity, space, games, immersion, augmentation, social networking etc. The second point is the ease of access. That one can create digital space with so much additional content is one thing, but with QR codes (and digital cameras), that space (and what it contains) becomes mobile, becomes empowering, becomes free of physical constraints (of space etc). Screen world merges with real world. QR codes are thus strategic and efficient ways of harnessing that mobility, utilizing that space.
(2) Leveraging of existing media The idea is synergy. Digital media today is an ecosystem – different media forms feed, work off and translate from each other. QR codes play a role in this as well, but it is more as a conduit, a linking agent, than a media form. QR codes synapse between digital, print, virtual and cyber spaces, effectively expanding multimedia and cross-platform content: QR codes can be scanned from a variety of surfaces, such as low-resolution computer screens, online videos (including YouTube), stickers and printed paper, allowing for links between on and offline content. • They can be customized to send messages, offers or otherwise unavailable multimedia content. • They can make physical information rich. For example, Teradadesign and Qosmo’s N Building in Dubai and the N Building near Tachikawa station in Tokyo both have facades that are QR codes, allowing users to “read” the respective buildings by accessing GIS-positioned Twitter entries from customers, make reservations in the restaurants in it, gain information about the activities in the buildings and download
coupons. Information can be updated all the time but the code itself can remain the same as the permanent façade. • They can connect physical experience with digital media. The recent production by Cirque du Soleil of “Love”, a tribute to the music of The Beatles, features an iTunes app that is accompanied by a QR code for the 5th anniversary of the production. The user can scan the QR code to unlock extra content within the app that includes music, video and still images of the show, as well as to enter a competition to win DVDs and music. • They can connect digital content with social networking. From the QR code, users can be given apps to install on their device, which can then be used to connect them to a customer or fan base, from which they can participate in the culture of the product, cause, idea, or information network. • They can connect digital content with physical infrastructure. This can be anything ranging from anything buildings to our physical bodies. The world’s first animated tattoo – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3qv2dSXQXk&feature=youtu.be
uses a QR code tattooed on a human body to open up a piece of digital animation. Boundaries between the physical and the digital are now merged with and embedded in each other. • They can connect businesses with their customers. The tracking and information mining possibilities for QR code use are extensive, which we see as being useful for businesses, although it is necessary to bear in mind the relevance of privacy laws and for users to understand the implications. • They can augment physical spaces, where, by opening the code in a particular location, moving, still or interactive images can be superimposed over the physical surroundings to create dynamic and realistic collages that represent alternate architecture, such as famous people, locations, or events which can share the space with the user. The permutations are potentially endless. If designed and executed properly, the expanded content from QR codes could assist in boosting its publicity, enhancing experience of the product, making it a more pleasant and memorable experience, in turn increasing customer emotional investment in and loyalty to it. QR codes which direct a user to a fixed URL is perhaps the most simple and obvious way of using them. However, the
progamming capabilities of the QR code, where an A4 size page of written information can fit inside the space of the code, means that a very large number of digitally coded instructions can be included in it. We see many ways and much potential for designing digital content which are more than just websites (boring!), but which are unique, customizable, immersive, interactive, augmented, social.
(3) As an object of design Besides its spatial and media affordances, we see the code itself also as an object of design. Patrick Donnelly, QR code designer, comments that “Designer QR codes are not only a way to make your 2D barcode stand out, but they also add a more human element to the otherwise cold and techie appearance. This could be the difference between someone scanning your code or not.” Louis Vuitton has used designer QR codes, both as functional scanned codes and as part of product design, where Louis Vuitton QR codes became a virtual good in their own right, appearing on Facebook pages and blog entries. A unique QR code could also be used for promotional purposes, such as this example for the TV series, True Blood:
Designed and integrated well in the product itself, we see also see this as setting a greater appeal to women: noting that 53% of the 14 million users who scanned a QR code in June 2011 in the United States were men between the ages of 18 and 34, a beautiful and well designed code might tempt more women to scan codes and be part of a product’s integral design. With an integrated QR code, the product itself can also become an amalgamation of the physical and digital, increasing its utility even further.
In any use of QR codes there are three rules to observe: 1) Mobilize the landing page: the site the QR decodes to should be active and even live, with regular updates and a community aspect to it. If the QR Code you have made resolves to a url make sure the page is optimized for display on a mobile device. An easy way round this issue it to make sure the landing page is equipped with agent switching. If the site is not under your control then you can use Google’s mobilizer by adding the url to this string: http://www.google.com/gwt/n?u= If you are mobilizing your own site such as your blog then there is an even better option which will mobilize your site, generate a QR Code for the mobilized url and keep usage statistics, it’s called Delivr. Another possibility to consider is Mippin, which has an option to include advertising but you must have an RSS feed for it to work. Whatever you end up doing make sure the user of your QR Code sees content optimized for mobile devices because 99.9% of the time they will be using a camera phone. 2) The second rule of QR Codes is to make sure the url is as short as possible. Many mobile devices and reader software have difficulty with a QR Code matrix greater than 33×33 and some even falter with those dimensions. This means you should aim for a small matrix rather than a large matrix. In QR Code encoding the number of bytes at a given Error Correction Level (ECL) will determine the matrix size (see chart below) therefore a shorter url can mean a dimensionally smaller matrix.
Dependence upon a third-‐party to decode and direct traffic is dangerous. The content, decoding and url/server provision should be handled by the publisher under contract or within the domain of the publication itself. 3) The third rule of QR Codes is, if the QR Code you have made resolves to a url, the online content must add tangible and significant value to any offline content. In terms of promotion added tangible and significant value includes prizes, limited access materials (special remixes or editions of recordings, limited edition T-‐shirts and so on) or discounts or coupons. Download and Install QR-‐Code Readers: http://www.mobile-‐barcodes.com/qr-‐code-‐software/#upcode QR-Code Standards Test Page http://www.printbusinesscards.com/marketing/qrcode/QR-Code-Quality-Standards-Test.php
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