Ever wonder what are those black and white digital patterns in a box that are appearing on bill boards, promotional flyers from stores and people’s business cards? They are called “Quick Response” or QR codes and if you are not already using your smart phone to read them, they are a whole new way of accessing information on people, products and services.

Created in Japan by Japanese Denso Wave, Inc. and first used in the automotive industry, QR codes are 2-D matrix barcodes that can hold thousands of alphanumeric data. This data can be read by any smartphone or tablet using free apps that you can download. The process of reading the code is much like taking a photo. You just start up the app on your phone and it “snaps” the QR code. The information stored in the QR code then appears on your screen.

QR codes are finally growing more popular in the United States because of their ease of use. Information can now be transferred directly to an audience using their smartphones instead of handing out wasteful paper materials, or taking time to manually enter data into a device, which can lead to making mistakes.


What type of data is on the QR code?

The codes can store URLs, phone numbers, contact information, links or connections to wireless networks, and it can open an application with your smartphone’s browser. Beyond containing bits of data, you can use QR codes to share items stored elsewhere: a QR code could share an entire eBook, for example. The way QR codes work with physical objects, such as tracking shipments, is that the QR code itself is associated with a place, and can carry information that allows tracking where the code has been scanned along the way through GPS or by cell towers.

The use of quick response codes has become particularly popular at events and conventions. Instead of passing out business cards, or trying to type a contact name into a phone, people now can just snap the QR code on the person’s badge and the information gets stored in their smartphone.


How do I create a QR Code?

It’s really easy. Google or Kaywa can generate a QR code for you, free. Google goes even further, and allows you to track the analytics associated with the QR code and your campaign. And QR codes don’t just have to be in black and white anymore. You can “beautify” your code with uqr.me. On their site, you can easily add gradients, rounded corners, and some limited image insertion.


Keep your audience engaged.

It is a good idea to use QR codes to convey information that is important, that you cannot fit on your poster, for example; or if you want to engage your audience further in exploring the ideas you want to share. QR codes are great for leading your audience to more information on the web, or for giving a student or consumer the mobile version of any amount of data in a convenient and measurable way.

QR codes are usually printed on some object, displayed on a large screen, or on a website to link an end-user’s phone to that website’s mobile version. Therefore, QR codes really link an everyday object with some additional digital content or information. QR codes are really easy to add to posters, invitations, chapters in booklets, or to use in a library to help guide patrons to the right shelf. QR Codes are useful for a variety of needs both in public places, here at Tufts University, and for advertising or promotions in the marketplace and communities.



One important reminder regarding the use of QR codes is to be sure to lead your audience to a site that is optimized for mobile. In other words, if you are encoding a webpage, make sure your QR code points to a web page that looks great on a phone or tablet.

Make sure you keep your URL short. The longer a URL, the more complex and smaller the digital output of the QR Code will be; it will be harder to read for some phones as well because of the density of the black and white digital “noise.” And, reducing the size of that complex code to print onto a small item, like a postcard, will make it more troublesome to scan. Use a URL “shortener” like bit.ly. For official Tufts University sites, just request a ‘go script’ from Tufts Web Communicationsbefore creating your code.

Cole Latimer, Interactive Media Designer, UIT Academic Technology

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