design general

QR Codes are back…wait, really?

QR (Quick Response) codes were a touchy subject in design circles when they first started popping up all over North America in the early 2010s.

If the term doesn’t ring a bell, you’d know them to see them—those little squares full of black dots and lines that look like 8-bit TV static: 

…or a Bladerunner Rorschach test, if you prefer.

Remember when?

In their advent, the arguments for incorporating QR codes in your promotional materials were compelling: If anyone in your target market had one of those crazy new smartphones, they could open a QR code scanning app, point their camera at a code, and instantly be taken to your chosen web page. For designers, they were easy to generate, but unwieldy (and, according to some, pretty dang un-pretty).

Eye of the beholder, we suppose.

Their polarized reputation led to QR Codes rounding out the decade as a largely-regional phenomenon (i.e. they continued to be very popular in Japan and China, and increasingly less-so in North America). 

And then, that thing happened in 2020. 

FFWD to The Age of “Don’t Touch Anything”

We learned in the early days of the pandemic that the novel coronavirus could be spread via shared physical surfaces.

Instantly, many businesses had to rethink how to get key information into the hands of their clientèle without high-touch surface areas.

Enter the Dynamic QR Code

Unlike their more familiar “static” counterparts, Dynamic QR Codes are generally smaller and can be continually updated with new content without needing to generate a new graphic. 

For the hospitality industry, this meant menus could be modified at any time with new items and prices; more than that, the codes could enable touchless transactions to pay for the meal, while allowing the business to track analytics to find out how, where, when, and how often a code was scanned.

Employed to pretty decent effect in the posters Curio designed for the Old Strathcona Sweet Treats and Latte Festival!

Do you need a QR code?

Dynamic codes have other great implications for customer service, for safety protocols, and for informed marketing. But, before you consider including them in your designed materials, consider the following:

  • Dynamic QR codes are not always secure. Tech troublemakers have figured out how to use QR codes to embed malware on a user’s device (without that user knowing). Keep in mind, also, that there is no way for a user to be able to visually discern the difference between a trustworthy code and one generated for a nefarious purpose.

  • Sometimes, codes can be difficult to scan. Though they can contain a truly impressive amount of information in a small space, QR Codes can be difficult to scan if they carry too much information, are displayed at smaller scale, or blend in too much with the background colour). A non-scanning QR code makes for a frustrating user experience.

  • A QR code can’t speak for itself. That is, they can’t stand alone in a design: You need to tell a user what to expect when they scan your QR code, or they simply won’t scan it. For a designer, that means you’re adding two new elements to the overall design (i.e. both the code and the text explaining it). More elements means more clutter, and clutter is a major obstacle to clean design.
“Dog is trained to attack if scanned.”

*Ask your designer if a QR is right for you

Your friends at Curio have been working with QR codes for over a decade—feel free to touch base with us about making sure the benefits you’ll get using a QR code will outmatch the costs and potential risks!

This post was last updated on January 12, 2022 by Matt Steringa