QR Codes Fail Because They’re Ugly: Seriously?

I’ve been reading tons of industry news lately about the foundational impact of mobile on consumer and business behavior.

First, EFI announced today that its PrintMe Mobile has been named winner of the 2012 Mobile Merit Award in the mobile services, enterprise products/services category. PrintMe Mobile enables direct Wi-Fi printing from iPads, iPhones and Android devices from within the application directly to any existing network printer regardless of brand. Enterprise printing from mobile devices? Didn’t that happen years ago?

Then I read how Facebook is struggling to explain to investors its inability to monetize its mobile application. This oversight has been called all sorts of things, including a “critical problem” and “the elephant in the pitch room.” I agree. With the lifestyle impact of mobile, that truly is mystery.

Then there is the study from Ipsos MediaCT (“Catching the Tablet Wave”) showing that penetration via mobile tablets is on the steady rise, especially among some very coveted consumer demographics. According to the study, overall tablet PC ownership increased from 10% in September 2011 to 16% in March 2012, and among individuals in households earning $100,000+ per year, it increased from 21% to 28%.

Tablet ownership matters so much because it is impacting every aspect of life from couponing to TV watching. ABC just announced that is using Yahoo’s IntoNow app to allow viewers to interact with its TV programming on their tablet devices — again. Viewers can use the app to talk about the show on social networks, get videos, enter sweepstakes, and participate in other interactive activities. This time, its ABC’s freshman drama “Revenge,” but the app has been used in a Republican presidential debate and by Pepsi during a Major League baseball game. Seems perfectly normal to me.

At I’m reading this influx of news stories, I’m simultaneously reading comments in one of the digital printing discussion forums in which participants are arguing that QR Codes will fail as a mobile response mechanism because they are ugly. Now there’s a jolting contrast for you!

It reminds me of when my husband, who is the facilities director for a private high school, gets on rants about managing this million-dollar capital investment project here, putting out fires on that half-million restroom renovation project there, dealing with the HR issues involved in the major restructuring of his staff over there, and while all the pieces are swirling and everyone is ducking and weaving, he turns around because there is a teacher tugging on his shirt tail complaining, “My erasers aren’t clean! My erasers aren’t clean!”

Mobile (or lack of attention thereof) is impacting everything from enterprise printing to TV-watching behavior to the ability to launch one of the most famous IPOs in business history. Yet some people in the printing industry think QR Codes will fail because they’re ugly? Yes, and there are enough of them to spawn discussions that span over days.

People used to argue that digital printing wouldn’t take off either because it wasn’t as high quality as offset. But eventually, functionality won out, and even before digital achieved the near or full offset parity that it has achieved today, it had already become a disruptive technology.

So, too, with mobile 2d barcodes like QR Codes. I think the number of proprietary codes will first explode and then greatly diminish, but I think claims that their appearance and “intrusion” upon the graphic design are short sighted. Perhaps by printers or marketers who misunderstand or don’t fully understand how to use them.

Functionality will trump here, and if it doesn’t, then perhaps your marketing clients are not using 2d mobile barcodes the right way.


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10 thoughts on “QR Codes Fail Because They’re Ugly: Seriously?

  1. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    I just received a comment on my Facebook page on a similar topic. I thought it made a lot of sense here. A friend of mine posted:

    “My theory would be that for a lot of people, online is so ubiquitous and obvious that it almost becomes invisible. For example, when you first meet people who only shop for produce at a farmer’s market or drive a Prius, they stand out in your mind. It’s new, it’s different, and it might shift your own habits. But once these things become common, you almost don’t notice all of the Priuses anymore, and you don’t really think about how “revolutionary” farmer’s markets are. So you almost forget about them because they become routine.”

  2. biztag

    …to the comment above; “For example, when you first meet people who only shop for produce at a farmer’s market or drive a Prius, they stand out in your mind” & “But once these things become common, you almost don’t notice all of the Priuses anymore” because you always notice things until you adopt them, embrace them, use them and even own them.., I now have a Prius, no Joke!

    Good Read-Thx for the post!

  3. Mikhail Kuvshinov

    Yes, QR codes are ugly, but this is not important. After all there are a few examples of invisible by naked eye QR-like codes, embedded into picture.

    Root of problem is quite simple. People do not like to interact with a can of coke. The same is true for Facebook too – peoples like to interact with people. Strange for them, isn’t it?

  4. John Arleth

    Qr’s could overcome the ugly factor, in fact the beetle did and became popular despite its looks. The reason, for a small cost, great mileage, good in snow functionality they overcame their looks. Changing to color would help design wise. The problem is that the qr code is becoming another way to get to a website instead of a landing page with true value propositions. Everyone wants a value for going through the motions of reading what is behind the ‘ugly’ boxes. Do I get to an offer, like a free pizza or do I corporate speak? “What’s in it for me” should be foremost. i don’t want to vote on most popular singer, i want a tool offer, a valuable coupon with less hoops to get the value, I should not read all the multiple ways to take it back, a la, “not good with other offers”, etc. Otherwise, I am reading what I consider a scam. is it a true value for teens, tweens, seniors, it will bring me in. Yesterday, my daughter and mom read famous footwear and found good coupons for shoes and good value to get mom’s oil changed with print your own coupon. They are willing to work and print the coupon. A qr code could have done it quicker. To quote the bard:

    “This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

    It seems old but think through your offer, if you are writing a qr code, be sure there is true value, just as you would expect. Otherwise, you lose customer loyalty.

  5. thomaus

    QR Codes were an interesting experiment. The results varied dramatically in use.
    They’ve been used on subway posters; you don’t get mobile data when underground.
    They’ve apparently had fake QR code stickers placed over the real ones.
    They are ugly.
    And I can only remember one campaign when I’ve ever gotten something rewarding from scanning one. (It lead to a ticket to a free concert where I didn’t actually spend any money on the band.)
    But I’m a weird consumer. I work in the business, and have been paid to make QR codes. So I took the bother to scan them. Do real people actually do this? Or do they just type “name of business or deal I’m interested” in into Google?
    In general QR codes always reminded me of Let’s Make a Deal. Players in that game would choose between curtains one, two and three. There was a goat behind one of the curtains. Why take the time an effort to scan a potential goat?

  6. Mike Ferrari

    QR codes are ugly, they take of space. Never the less they are the current state of the art capability to easily upload to a website.

    Technology exists for this method of connection to be overtaken. Fundamental technology exists by google on character recognition, Brandstir are pursuing embedded images, etc. We will see in the future connection methods transformed so to save the precious space QR codes require and the distraction to the graphic artwork.

  7. Joe Manos

    Heidi, great post as always.

    I feel there are several points we should consider before we pass judgement one way or another. First, the QR Code has been used for many years in the Pac Rim region successfully.

    Next, there will always be new solution introduced to meet a growing need like mobile marketing, some will succeed (marginally) others will fail.

    There are many great success stories using QR Codes and for those companies they have become a critical marketing tool used regularly.

    We see many successful, growing use cases by our customers.

    The key for all marketing use cases is creating a personal experience that the individual wants to, needs to respond to and that means using best practice methodologies for online marketing campaigns. In my humble opinion this is where most of the failure or lack of success stems from.

    Finally, it is still too early to judge one way or another for North America as we don’t have sufficient data (yet) to confirm IF they will continue to be main stream or replaced by another better solution.

  8. J Dartt

    QR codes can potentially be back doors for mobile devices. Personally, I choose not to engage for that reason.

    Working for a design firm, we really have no say as to QR aesthetics: they are what they are and the client will put them on the package or advertisement, or not. I’ve seen some interesting ones with colors and graphics added, just as there’s been artistic UPC codes.

    Do you need that much space on a package to access a website? Probably not. In the future, the footprint will most likely be smaller, or as optic tech improves, may be hidden in the design more effectively.

    From my security standpoint above, I have zero trust. Not to mention I can plug in the brand’s website in a browser much faster than loading an app, scanning a code and getting it to respond. I’d imagine the average consumer may also feel the same way. Too much like work and too much data gathering.

  9. Bill Manfull

    Okay, maybe QR codes are ugly but what is important is the universal recognition of what it is (you scan it and it does something) and the important link from print to digital domains. Yes, It would be less ugly it were smaller; something that will evolve organically as cameras that are built into smartphones improve. For now, it is important, ugly or not, that we do not confuse the public with proprietary (and maybe more attractive) alternatives. Nothing like a “standard” to increase adoption rates. Nobody is saying that a BigMac is the BEST burger but at least you know what you are getting when you buy one!

  10. Tom

    I despise QR Codes. They are hideous, and I avert my eyes from ads that have them as quickly as possible. Besides, how can advertisers actually be so arrogant as to think I want yet another sales pitch so bad that I will take out my phone, open an app, and use it to take a pic of an eyesore.

    If enough people start deleting the apps for them, they will go away.

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