The QR Code Has Found Its Calling

We’ll be the first to admit to deriding and mocking the humble QR code. Whenever it came up as a part of the design or a wider marketing campaign, it almost never made sense. Why? People just don’t use QR codes. Until now. 

The ride of the humble QR code comes as the world adjusts to touchless, no-contact interactions everywhere. Much like Apple Pay, Google Pay and other NFC mobile payment options, they were the choice of a tech-centric minority in the general population who would rather whip out their wallets to pay than use their phone. Now, both technologies are becoming more and more widespread as useful tools in the fight against COVID-19. 

For nearly twenty years, the QR code has been an odd duck. It was invented in 1994, but it wasn’t until the iPhone in 2007 and the explosion of smartphones that businesses really started to get excited about them. Entire campaigns were built around special offers and more information, or simply kicking customers to a website in a number of industries. Public transit linked QR codes to their schedules, stores put daily or unique promotions on signage, and community commerce departments drove users to information via odd black-and-white squares on posters around downtowns. 

But no one used them. One reason for their lack of use was the need for QR-code specific applications, which meant that people would need to open the app, take the photo, and wait for the link to load. That’s a lot more of a process than just having that same information printed on the sign, or including a url for users to put in manually. 

However, COVID-19 has opened up more effective ways to implement QR codes into day-to-day transactions and even POS design. Restaurants have replaced table menus with QR codes, eliminating the need to disinfect menus over and over throughout the day. Hotels have used QR codes at check-in to push guests directly to booking sites. For these applications, there’s an added bonus; with auto-fill, guests can fill out the information fields in two taps, greatly accelerating the check-in process, which is both safe and efficient for everyone involved. 

QR codes offer a unique way for businesses to push users to book appointments, check new COVID-19 procedures, and gain access to new promotions and discounts. We’ve seen retailers put a “daily deal” QR code in the front window of their shop, allowing customers to see what the deal is before they come in. It’s helped to generate new habits, too, with customers making a point to stop by and see if that 10% discount is on, say, fiction books, handbags, or lunch on any given day of the week. 

A key to the success of the QR code is the ability of new smartphones to read straight from the native camera application. With ease comes use, and that extends to how businesses integrate QR codes into marketing design. Simply slapping a square somewhere on a poster isn’t enough; prioritizing as a featured element and telling customers where the QR code takes them is key. Like anything, businesses do need to invest a little time in effort in training their clients to adopt the technology, and there’s no better time to create new habits and expectations than when daily life is still upended and scrambled.