Value User Experiences with QR Codes


The use of Quick Response codes (QR codes) is becoming more widespread. Initially developed in 1994 for tracking parts in the automotive industry, these 2-D barcodes have made their way onto business cards, direct mail pieces, and a wide array of signage and print materials. A recent study reported that an estimated 14 million people in the United States used a QR code in June 2011.

With the use of a smart phone camera, a quick scan of these mobile barcodes can instantly direct the user to a website, retrieve a vCard, dial a phone number and more. QR codes are the “cool new toy” in marketing and advertising. Everybody wants to make them, and everybody wants to use them. But, not everybody knows how to use them effectively. A well thought out plan is needed. Not only should the QR code direct the user to information, it should provide a quality user experience with your business or organization.

Generate a QR Code

The use of a QR code generator is free. QR code generation sites, such as Kaywa, are easy to use. To direct a user to online content, simply copy and paste the URL and click on the “generate” button. In an instant, your QR code is ready.

The Sky’s the Limit

There is no limit to how many QR codes you can create and share. Creating one and passing it out is the easy part. Your audience may require education on how to use it, though.

  • Provide a small, brief statement next to the code, such as “Scan code.”
  • Tell your audience what to expect after scanning the code, such as “Scan code to learn more.”
  • You may also want to suggest QR code scanning apps for your smart phone users. QR Reader for iPhone or Android is a high-rated app created by TapMedia.

Don’t let your audience guess or wonder about this process. It’s important not to let your audience have a negative experience.

Create an Effective QR Code Experience

Be creative. A QR code on the back of a business card is nice as long as it directs the user to an interesting, interactive or memorable experience.

Revolution Cycles, a small cycle shop located in Columbus, Ohio, displays a QR code on the back of their business card which directs the scanner to their Tumblr blog. While they do not have a steady stream of posts and updates, the blog gives the user an idea of the bike shop's culture and interests. The latest post lets the viewer know that they are currently working to upgrade their blog so that it is user-friendly to all browsers.

Business Card Mobile Blog Website

For a list of creative ideas on creating QR codes, read Fast Company’s blog post, “13 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes for Marketing.”

Keep the User Experience in Mind

The user experience is one of the most important things to keep in mind regarding QR codes. Recently, we received a mailer from OSU Sports Medicine with a QR code.

The mailer read:

“Scan the QR code with your smart phone to visit your personalized website […] and register to win, basketball, football, and other tickets to Ohio Sta[t]e athletic events, merchandise and free health and fitness assessments.”

Scanning the code with a smart phone took us to a website with a personalized subdomain. This is where the personalization ended.

Direct mail postcard

The first thing that we noticed is that we were visiting a regular website and not a mobile site. There was a block of text that was not easily scannable. Information about winning tickets, events, merchandise, etc., did not jump out. In order to see information, we were required to enter an email address.

QR code landing page Form

After entering an email address, we were presented with a form with seven questions. Again, we did not see the information we were hoping to receive. Since we were visiting a regular website, we were deterred by the form because they can be quite cumbersome to complete on a smart phone.

In this instance, the QR code was not used effectively. The “personalized” webpage was a subdomain and none of the promised information was available on the landing page. The form on the regular web page was too long. This code would have been more effective if the landing page had been geared to a smart phone user and had the information that was listed in the mailer. Testing out this experience internally would have provided great insights into the user experience with this QR code campaign.

Simple is Best

Out for a Saturday morning bagel at Einstein Bros Bagels, we found a QR code that instantly rewarded us. A bagel club invite was situated near the coffee station. It’s a good place to put the signage since our hands were free from holding our coffees and readily available to grab our smart phones. The sign read: “Join our e-club for a free Bagel & Shmear with beverage purchase,” and it displayed a big QR code. So, we scanned it.

 Bagel club sign

The mobile barcode took us to a mobile website. The site was well branded and the form was simple. We were still reading the “Thank You” page when the email notification alert sounded. We had instantly received a thank you and a coupon for a free bagel.

QR code landing page & form Thank you page Email message

In this instance, the messaging and the form were simple, and we were instantly rewarded for scanning the code. To ensure our speedy return, our coupon must be used within a week. Our user experience was positive, and we will be having a free bagel and shmear in the near future.

Study, Creativity, and Execution

Creating a QR code is the easy part of using QR codes. In order to make mobile barcodes most effective, it is a good idea to study how other businesses are using them, investigate creative ways to implement them and then execute the campaign. Keeping it simple is best while keeping the user experience in mind. Think of where the smart phone user will be when he or she sees your QR code and think of what the user will expect when scanning the code. A positive experience will help consumer use of QR codes grow and will establish standards for future use.

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