QR Code™

Often we discover that the technologies we exploit were born by chance or by necessity. It is due to this latter aspect that the Quick Response Code - QR Code™ - was born.

Luca Silva e Andrea Dovichi (studiowasabi.com)

In 1994 the Japanese company Denso Wave Incorporated (Toyota Group) needed to invent a way of tracking automotive components easily and quickly. After an attentive analysis, it decided to adopt a twodimensional matrix barcode (image 1).

This choice makes it possible to enter much more information (image 2) compared to a simple bar code, since Japanese Kanji characters were used. In this way, up to 1897 Kanji or 4296 alpha-numeric characterscan be used (technically: (image 3). Its extreme versatility due to the fact that it can be read at 360° - through the use of special reference points - by a wide range of scanners, that it can also be read if damaged or not very legible due to printing quality (image 4) (up to 30% maximum error correction for a high quality QR Code™) make it an interesting instrument. So it was decided to standardize it so that its use could be diffused worldwide. Presently, the most frequently used QR Code™ is the one that refers to the standard one registered in 2000, while in 2004, a microcode who use is less diffused was registered.


From industrial use to the web: As often happens when an important discovery is made, a technology that is born for a given purpose finds application also in different fields for which it was not initially intended. The QR Code™ is a perfect example of this.

Nowadays we need to optimize our time, and this is all the more important on the web. What better occasion to implement the QR Code™ than for displayinga website? Passing from the real (the paper support) to the web through this simple code turned out to be a great solution. All you have to do is select the code to reach the desired site without having to type it in. A substantial savings in time for users and a veritable godsend for lovers of ease and comfort.

After this initial evolutionary step in the use of the code, we moved on to other aspects: using the QR Code™ not only for the web URL, but also for the vcard (the virtual business card) to save data directly on cell phones, phone numbers (to call without dialing), directions (through the integrated map in smartphones) and to be used also on social networks (for a “like” on a page) and to download software or apps legally and free of charge (image 5).


Let’s take some prac tical examples. Worldwide scenario: A special QR Code™ was created in Korea that mixes the real with the virtual: E-Mart’s need to acquire new customers during the lunch break (between 12 noon and 1 pm), was resolved through a “solar QR Code™ connected to a campaign called “sunny sale”.Based on sunlight, a shadow that is in reality a QR Code™ is projected on the support; but only the rays that the sun projects at lunch time create the proper code and the user, intrigued by the novelty, can access promos and try to win 12 coupons exclusively during that precise lapse of time (image 6 - 7 - 8).


Still in Korea: Tesco Corporation. Considering the perception of technology in South Korea, large retailing has decided to produce a media campaign through the QR Code™. The population of assiduous, tireless workers often does not find the time to go to the supermarket. How can this fact be exploited to their favor and at the same time offer a useful service to the community? South Korea has 131.7 kmof subway and 129 stations, and each day sees the flow of about 829,220 commuters (2011 data – Source Wikipedia) - a great point to start from. How can this experience be made interesting and fast at the same time? Advert posters were set up reproducing life-size supermarket shelves and every product was associated with a QR Code™ that allowed the user to purchase the product on the supermarket’s e-commerce. Thanks to these billboards, commuters waiting for the subway can order their groceries which will be delivered promptly, thus solving the problem of time.


Example in America: the HIV campaign. A case within the non-profit realm was the campaign against HIV that wanted to sensitize people to the fact that still today we must be aware of the existence of risk. Specifically, a QR Code™ was created that allowed anyone to give their contribution to diffusing the campaign (image 9).


Example in Europe: Guinness. The famous Irish company Guinness, for years producer of the great, dark Stout beer (made from toasted malt and barley) has decided to accentuate its brand image and the difference compared to other producers through interaction with fans that involves the use of the QR Code™. It has created a glass that is distributed free of charge in establishments worldwide, with a serigraphed QR Code™ thanks to which it is possible to recognize the beer. This is because the traditional black tone of the beer makes use and interpretation of the code possible (like we mentioned before, there are technical and chromatic characteristics within which the code is interpreted). A great idea for highlighting a company, even one producing alcoholic beverages (image 10).


Kylie Minogue’s tour. For her song “All the lovers”, the famous pop star created a special QR Code™ that appears on some initial scenes of her video. It was very successful and in the end, fans were able to decipher it and discover the message addressed to them (image 11 - 12).


Examples in Italy: And what about Italy? Following success in Korea, France and Spain, Milan, too, was the venue for the offer of a similar opportunity for people waiting for the subway (88 km, 94 stations with about 1,600,000 daily travelers - 2008 data, source Wikipedia). Four stations (Centrale FS, San Babila, Loreto and Duomo) were seen as the ideal location for the “virtual shelves” from which it is possible to scan the codes with your smartphone and see the special offers of the area’s supermarkets and so save money on groceries (image 13).


Still in Milan, in the summer of 2012 Mediaworld decided to make 114 panels in some subway stations. Thanks to code scanning, it was possible to access a page dedicated to special offer products. Each day these were updated and in some cases, free transport and 24-hrhome delivery was offered (image 14).


Errors in the use of the QR Code™ by some companies: At this point, it may seem that creating a QR Code™ marketing campaign is very easy and intuitive. But mistakes that can turn an opportunity to increaseone’s clientele into a flop are just around the corner. Here are some of the most frequent errors that may be encountered in creating this type of campaign.

Some QR Code™ installed in a subway station were too small (or of low quality) to be read. The user was also put in a dangerous situation because, in trying to read these codes, he or she could get too close to the rail and thus risk falling or - worse - being run over by a train. Another mistake regarding difficulty in reading the code was made by an agency that placed some of these codes on a means of public transportation: since the vehicle was moving, they were practically illegible.

These cases are similar to the codes placed on a waving flag which made it impossible to scan them. Another problem tied to placement of these codes may concern not the support itself but rather the area... In order to work properly, a QR Code™ that leads back to an Internet site needs to be scanned somewhere where wifi is present or where it is possible to navigate, but this is not always so in the subway or even on a plane (although now some airline companies have a (rather expensive) wifi system on board.

The problem may also be what the code is focusing on: the site may be hard to reach, perhaps not optimized for smartphones (for example, the iPhone® cannot read Flash sites) or the product may be embarrassing (like the product against bedbugs advertised in a subway station) so users might not like to be seen interested in such an item.


What is the QR Code design. Considering the technical capabilities of the QR Code™, creatives and geeks have started going beyond and, following an attentive analysis, they have come to conceive the idea of the QR Code™ design. The challenge is to design more captivating and colorful QR Code™ (in general). From the emotional/commercial point of view, several initiatives have sprouted from companies that needed to go beyond personalization. Here are some examples: (image 15 - 16 - 17) there are several different types: with centered logo, distributed image and a halfway solution. In any case, the important thing is to always perform an attentive analysis for its correct use, otherwise the readers (present both on the scanners as well as on smartphones) do not recognize them. Also - and above all - in themanufacture of this type of code, the agency will have to pay attention to legibility and to the loss of information due to the risk mentioned above.But while it is very simple to create a traditional QR Code™ (even Google offers the on-line possibility to create one free of charge in just a few simple steps), the creation of a QR Code™ design requires knowledge of the principles of graphics and a technical knowledgethat not everyone possesses. Every QR Code™ design is produced manually and checks on the loss of information must be performed several times during the entire creation process. So, services are born that offer customers these new types of codes, like the Italian “http://qrcodedesign.it” that offers different code types based on the tastes of the user.Considering that technology and smartphones are expanding fast, we hope that the unconscious use the QR Code™, too, will grow.Here is an in-depth report to better understand some data (image 18).







Other online resources. •

  • Example of "convertion" from Kanji to QR Code™
  • Comparison between QR Code™ and BarCode
  • Code areas and contained information
  • Even if damaged or marked, within certain limits the QR Codes™ are still legible.
  • Installing a "solar" QR Code™
  • Promotional video of Emart's "Sunny Sale" campaign
  • The QR Code™ design for the campaign against HIV in the US
  • The QR Code™ on the beer glass legible only to who drinks Guinness
  • Kylie Minogue's message to her fans
  • The "All the lovers" video showing the QR Code™
  • The promotional video for the "virtual shelves" in the Milan metropolitan.
  • Mediaworld's QR Code™ campaign in the Milan metropolitan
  • An example of a QR Code™ design made by the authors of this article.
  • The QR Code™ design made by the contemporary artist Takashi Murakami for Louis Vuitton.
  • An example of a designed QR Code™ produced by the authors of this article
  • The statistics report on the use of the QR Code™.
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