Use QR Codes to “Amplify” Your Work

3 04 2012

Explaining Research web site

QR codes have become ubiquitous enough that they’re now a useful way to “amplify” your work. These two-dimensional bar codes—looking like crossword puzzles for masochists—enable audiences to scan the code with their smartphone or camera-equipped tablet to gain access to information or trigger actions. For example, scanning the QR code on this post will link you to the Explaining Research web site.

QR codes, short for “Quick Response codes,” were developed in 1994 by a Toyota subsidiary to allow data to be decoded at high speed. But the company decided not to enforce its patent, so the codes have come to be used around the world.

As detailed below, producing the codes is both free and easy, and when scanned by a smartphone, the code can open a text document, web site, video, e-mail address,  phone number, digital business card (e.g. a vCard), map page, WiFi connection, or event announcement. For a full list of examples see the code generator on the Kerem Erkan QR generator. Just click on the “Select a Code Action” dropdown list.

A generated code is basically an image file that can be printed or displayed on a screen. It can have a multitude of uses, including being displayed

  • on a research poster to offer a paper download or web site access
  • on a scientific paper to give access to raw data or background
  • on a brochure, magazine article, or business card to giver readers more information
  • on an office or lab door to give visitors information on research by the occupants, or even a video welcome
  • as a series of codes throughout a lab or other facility to create a virtual text or video  tour
  • attached to lab instruments or other machines to give instant access to operating manuals or other information
  • printed on t-shirts to introduce the wearer’s work to fellow conference attendees or the public (Both Cafe Press and Zazzle offer such shirts. QR codes can even be printed on chocolates!)
  • on an event poster to enable potential attendees to download details of the event
  • as the final slide in a presentation to offer access to the slides or more information

For educators, here’s another creative collection of 46 Interesting Ways to Use QR Codes to Support Learning.

Generating a QR code only requires entering the web URL or other text into one of the code generators listed below and right-clicking to save the resulting graphic image to your computer. There are, however, some issues to consider: For example, if you want to change the web site that the same QR code accesses, you’ll want a generator such as Delivr or Snap,vu that enable such editing. You might also want to track how many times the QR code was used, so you might want to use more feature-rich generators like Delivr,, or Qreate & Track.

Also, the URL or other text entered into a code generator needs to be relatively short. The longer the text string, the smaller the squares in the code, and the more likely are errors when users attempt to scan it. So, you might want to use a URL shortener such as bitly or to shorten your URL (instructions below). However, such services have a downside in that they might be “glitchy.” So, try to use URLs hosted on your own domain. Some other tips:

  • Surround your code with plenty of white space when printing or displaying.
  • Label the code’s content by putting your name or other information above or below the code.
  • Color codes are possible, but make sure the colors contrast with one another.

Dawn Wentzell of the AuthorityLabs blog has a good set of  tips on using QR codes in her post Using QR Codes? You’re Probably doing it Wrong. Perhaps the most important was to understand that people are scanning your code using mobile devices that may not display a full-fledged web site properly. So, consider developing a fast-loading mobile-friendly site for them. Other tips include not using glossy paper for codes and not using Flash, Javascript or HTML5, which some smartphones can’t handle.

Here’s a list of code generators:

  • Bitly To produce QR code, first shorten the URL with bitly, then add .qr to the end of the shortened URL and use the link. The image of the QR code will appear on the screen.
  • Delivr
  • To produce code, enter URL to shorten, then click on “details” when the shortened URL appears to see the QR code.
  • Associated with Zazzle. Offers an easy way to apply codes to t-shirts,coffee cups, etc.
  • Jumpscan enables creation of personal profile pages, for example for business cards.
  • Kaywa
  • Qreate & Track
  • QRstuff generates color codes, as well as wide variety of code types
  • Quikqr
  • Shopify
  • SnapMaze
  • TagMyDoc adds QR codes to documents to enable sharing
  • Zxing

Finally, as easy as QR codes are to use, they might not be the last word in information-sharing. Newly introduced Touchcode doesn’t need a camera or a special code to distribute information. It’s an invisible electronic code printed on paper, cardboard, film or labels. Touch a smartphone or other touch screen to the print, and it reads the data.




2 responses

17 04 2012
Ros Reid

Thanks for this post, Dennis. I’ve been deploying QR codes widely, and I was motivated to read your post to see if you had any data on the consumer end–how many people really are using their QR code apps, and how widely.

I’d still love to know, but embedded in your post is something more important. The consumer/audience member has to be motivated to decode the code–so labeling the code’s content, or dropping a hint about the reward you’ll get (“Related Papers” or sometime), is a great thing to do.

I’d add that it’s crucial to test a code to be sure it works when printed or under the lighting/projection conditions in a presentation.

17 04 2012

Ros raises two excellent issues: the current usage level of QR codes, and whether they are being used properly. The questions prompted me to do more research, and here are some articles on the topics. They generally conclude that, while QR codes are useful, they are, indeed, having difficulty catching on. And this problem is due in part to the fact that in many cases they are being used incorrectly.
MGH Modern Marketing: QR Code Survey
Archrival Youth Marketing: QR Codes Go to College
2D Barcode Strategy: QR Codes on Campus – A Reply
CNNTech: Why QR codes aren’t catching on
Forbes: Are QR Codes dead?
Mashable Tech: Why QR Codes Won’t Last (Mobile Visual Search as an alternative)
Authority Labs: Using QR Codes? You’re Probably Doing It Wrong
Marketing Land: 8 Great Ways to use QR Codes for Marketing
New York Times: Want More Information? Just Scan Me

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