The trouble with QR codes

To be upfront about it I really don’t like QR codes at all.

Just in case you are one of the many people that fall at the first hurdle described in the diagram further down the page, this is a QR code:

If you have the right phone, software and time on your hands you could photograph this pattern, have it decoded as a web address and be sent to the page it links to (hint: it’s this one, so don’t bother).

Well I’m not dead set against them but as someone who is likely to be asked to implement them at some point I am not going to be particularly enthusiastic about it.

The majority of the time they are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Even if that weren’t the case there are major barriers to them being anything more than a novelty promotional tool.

That is not to say there are no good use cases for QR codes, it’s just that these are likely to be pretty specific and appeal to a limited user base.

I’m open to the idea that the situation might change based on improvements in technology but even then I can’t envisage a time when they will ever go mainstream.

Here’s a flowchart:

Chart showing potential problems for QR code use

Now I won’t claim that the user journey described in the chart is exhaustive, and you might argue that some stages are redundant depending on the ability of the user.

And I don’t apologise for including “Do they have a smartphone?”. OK so a QR code strategy may target smartphone users specifically but in doing so will exclude everyone else. What about the user who wants to get at the content but can’t because they have an older phone?

The point of the chart is to show that the obstructions to usage may be insurmountable and are determined by awareness, apathy, hardware capability, a user’s proficiency with own their device and so on.

All of these factors will be outside the control of the publisher.

As it stands even a QR code enthusiast is going to have to be pretty determined to use them. For everyone else the pay off is going to have to be worthwhile to encourage engagement.

And that is my biggest beef with them really. I’ve been in scenarios where I could have easily sailed round the user journey described in the diagram but haven’t done because the thought of having to was enough to put me off.

Why should anyone use a technology that just creates more hurdles?