QR code design & use

There are various ways in which QR codes can be used. This page highlights some creative uses of this bar code technology.

Making the code the key

All too often an advert containing a QR code already tells you everything you need to know so that there is little incentive to scan the code. In the example below, nothing is revealed. If you want to know what will soon happen on that bench, you have to scan the code. For people who don’t have a smartphone, there still is a URL that they can look up later.

Small poster with just a QR code on it
QR codes on a bench

The code takes you to a website but for events such as festivals or concerts. It might be a better idea to embed an event in the QR code. That way when the code is scanned, the festival is automatically added to the user’s agenda on the phone. Unfortunately, not all QR scanners or readers can handle event QR codes yet.

Abuse the error correction mechanism

Some of the modules (pixels) in a QR code are used for error correction. If some part of the barcode is read incorrectly, those extra bits assure that the QRcode reader code can still interpret it properly. Some designers abuse this mechanism on purpose to embed other graphic elements in the code. The rabbit example below from the Japanese design agency SET shows how far you can go.

A QR Code with an embedded logo or graphic design
Creatively abusing the QR code error correction mechanism

Another way to abuse this mechanism is by embedding some other content into QR codes. Adding a logo is a popular option, as can be seen in the BBC programs code to the right.

Make the QR code disappear in the layout

One of the main objections against the use of QR codes is that they really stand out and have a big visual impact on the layout. This is not necessarily a disadvantage as the examples below show. The first one is from TheDirectMailMan. Notice how the code is not in black but uses fairly dark colors that match those of the illustration.

The QR code is integrated into the layout

The second example is once again from the SET design agency. I don’t think this code can actually be scanned – it is an advertisement for the codes that can be found on the cans themselves.

the qrcode is cleverly integrated in the design
Making a QR code blend into the background

Integrate the code in the layout

In these examples, the code isn’t exactly hidden but you see a nice combination of abusing the error correction mechanism and integrating the code in an existing image…

creative use of a QR-code in a poster
You need an eye for design to create such a code

… or in a layout.

A QR code mimicks part of the layout of an Intel ad
Smart indeed!

Add interaction to a book

I Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works is a book from New York Times technology reporter Nick Bilton. Each chapter begins with a QR code that takes the reader to a website containing related articles, videos and other information.

A QRcode points to a web site containing more information
Unfortunately, the QR code of each chapter points to the same web page

Emboss, varnish or cut

Finishing can make a design element stand out. Obviously that applies to QR codes as well. An interesting but expensive process is using a die cut for the code, as shown below.

A business card containing a diecut QR code
This might not work if you put the card on a brownish background

You can see a lot of examples of the creative use of QR codes on business cards on this Webdesignerdepot page.

Put the QR code in unexpected places

Quiring Monuments place QR codes on tombstones so that visitors can learn more about the deceased. This may be pretty new in the US but using QR codes in cemeteries is not uncommon in Japan.

Scanning the code takes you to a memorial page

Another example is putting codes in a virtual world, such as the code below which was planted in a Farmville game.

Putting QR codes in virtual worlds

Early 2011 an ad agency in Thailand created a campaign for a shampoo using a team of people with QR-coded haircuts walking around Bangkok. The code was scannable and pointed to a specially created mobile site.

QR code based advertising  in a haircut
Scan my haircut

Around 2011 a concept study was made for a QR code themed hotel in Dubai. The project never got off the ground.

A rendered image of the QR code hotel

The series ends with the most delicious use of barcodes: QKies are German cookies that get a custom code on one side.

QR codes on cookies = Qkies
The code can of course also contain the expiration date

QR code tattooOne last piece of advice:
Tattooing a QR code is not a good idea. It is reasonable to expect that the gradual fading of the ink as well as its loss in sharpness can cause issues scanning the code. Gaining or loosing weight can lead to the same problem. This Dutch singer started working out and the code on his left arm can now no longer be read.

Other sources of information

Mashable has published a fun article showing various types of QR codes.

8 thoughts on “QR code design & use

  1. I don’t understand the limits of abuse. The rabbit example shows extensive altering of the code but it still works? What part of the code can you wreck and what part must remain untouched and how do you know?

  2. Can you embed a lead capture link or similar in the code or can you have it take the user to a landing or squeeze page where you can incent them to register their e-mail?

  3. Does the tag have to appear at a set size on a printed leaflet (does it have specifications like a bar code for example?) My leaflet size is USA-A4


    1. Go to a QR generator site, such as http://qrcode.kaywa.com/
      Enter the URL of your site and select the prefered size. Click the ‘Generate’ button and you get the code.
      There are also applications that you can install on your Mac or PC to generate codes.

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