A few tips for experimenting with QR codes

Posted by Joe Walton on 07/10/2010

Earlier this month, Glasgow Citizens Theatre started promoting their new performance of a Clockwork Orange by using QR codes to distribute discount vouchers to mobile phones.

A new service from paper company papers spring is looking to bring QR codes to consumer market. With the growth of the mobile web and adoption of Smart phones like the iPhone, Android devices and Blackberry, tied with Facebook and Google both working with QR codes the tipping point could be round the corner.

QR codes have been accused of a solution without a problem. In some ways I agree but they are useful and fun way of bridging the gap between the real world or PC screen and a mobile device

QR codes can be used to....

  1. Encode contact information
  2. A short message
  3. A phone number
  4. A text message
  5. A URL (website address or file location on the internet)

The potential uses of QR codes are varied and range from everyday communication tasks and service integration to games and novelty activities. They have yet to become fully adopted (as they are in Japan) but are worth experimenting with if you have a good reason to use the mobile internet in a campaign. The following video from snappr.net is an example to join up an advert with a custom website and the presentation from Interlink One has a few more suggestions.


After you have finished here you may also want to visit Social Wayne for a good collection of QR marketing ideas.

As we have had some previous experience with QR codes I thought it would be good to introduce some hints and tips if you feel like experimenting.

  • Be aware they are not pretty. Trying to stylise them only leads to trouble.
  • Coloured codes may work in some circumstances but they are ill advised. The reader looks for areas of high contrast (dark next to light) and anything that reduces contrast creates potential problems.
  • Try to reduce the data held in the QR code. The number of squares and therefore the smallest effective size of the code is determined by the amount of data in the URL
    • Use a URL shortener like Bit.ly, snip.url or goo.gl to reduce the length of the web address.  
    • Optimise this shortened URL. It may be smaller but did you know it takes more data to represent a lowercase letter than an upper case? I didn’t until I came across a similar post by while writing this (sorry, I lost the link). If you can create a full custom URL then only use capitals. If you can’t then change the initial part of the address by hand. These  two URLS both take the reader to the same place http://bit.ly/d7JMrJ and HTTP://BIT.LY/d7JMrJ)
  • Make sure you try the QR code on a variety of readers and devices. It may fail on a couple of phone/reader permutations but as long as it works for the majority then that is enough. If you can try to test with the worst mobile phone you can find.
  • Once you have a shortened code use a reputable QR code generator (we use I-nigma but BeeTagg also look good) to create the code.
  • It should work on a variety of readers so stick with the basic type of QR code.
  • Be aware of the minimum display size and test, test and test again.

A few final tips when rolling out the codes are

  • Have a contingency plan for people who can’t use the codes. If it isn’t an integral part of a game then having an alternative for non-smart phone users makes sense.
  • Include some information on how to use the codes. Some of the QR code reader companies have a text message service that can prove useful. If you ask nicely they are likely to let you use them for free.
  • If you have staff or people working near the codes make sure they are briefed and can help people use the codes.

As a test why not try the codes below to open this page in your mobile browser. If you are unsure if you have a reader text I-nigma to 07797 882325) to receive a link to their app for a a variety of phones.Both are the same but show the difference between optimised an unoptimised QR codes.

Optimsed QR code         unoptimised QR code

If you have any questions or have your own experiences with QR codes to share drop us a comment below. 

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About the Author

Joe Walton is a consultant at Real PR and Secretary of the CIPR Scotland. His main interests sit between communications, psychology and technology.

You can follow him on multiple social networks including twitter and Google+.