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QR Codes - A Creative Dimension?

QR Codes - A Creative Dimension?

Marcus19th Jan 2009 4:34 pm

An invaluable data source? A new creative art form? Or just another technological waste of space?! These mazes of black and white squares, ladies and gents, are "QR Codes", and you're likely to see a fair few of them from now on.

Japan's already embraced them, and it looks like the UK's about to see its fair share too. In essence, a QR Code is a barcode, just like the one on a tin of beans. The only difference is that where Heinz print one set of stripes on the label, these chaps use a whole load, packed in side-by-side. The upshot is that they can contain far more info than the odd few digits needed at Tescos, so can be used to pass on a website address, a set of contact details, or even a few sentences conveying a hidden message.

But how?!

Of course, to look at, it's a meaningless bunch of black squares, but considering that so many people have a camera phone in their pocket these days, most of us are carrying a perfectly good barcode reader which could read these things in a split second.

Yes, it's early days, but the fact is our phones are fast becoming high speed internet devices, whether we want them to or not. From a commercial point of view, we're carrying around instant access to companies' adverts, promotions and products, but unless we bother to type a web address into our phone's browser, we'll never see any of it. That's where the QR code comes in. With the right software, you just have to point your phone at a QR code and you're taken straight to the message or website, without typing a thing.

Pepsi are among the first in this country to heavily promote their use, plastering bottles and cans with QR codes promising links to pictures of Kelly Brook (or something). However, they're also being seen right now on geek-chic fashion items such as scarves and t-shirts, as well as becoming pseudo-graffiti on walls and lamp posts, passing on secret messages to those odd few who currently know how to read them.

So, what's this got to do with being creative? Well, there are two answers...

Firstly, we're likely to start seeing them being incorporated into advertising, business cards and merchandise, as a quick way to pass on more info or entice people into a company's website. As boring as it sounds, companies will want to do it, if there's a chance of making an extra buck.

Secondly though, these codes have been designed to be pretty tough, the idea being that they can become damaged (to a certain extent!) and yet still be legible to your phone's barcode reader. This robustness can be exploited for cosmetic effect though. The 'damage' can be deliberate, giving designers the opportunity to 'play' with the squares: embedding logos, pictures, or other such content which IS legible by the human eye. The skill of course is to incorporate a design without obliterating the code to the point it no longer works.

If your phone doesn’t already have one built in, there are a number of bar code readers out there for you to download on to your phone…


T-mobile G1:
Search the Android Market for ‘barcode scanner’

Other ‘java’ phones:
Try or

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