According to research released by the AIDC Lab of Ohio University (part of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology), not all designer codes are created equal. While QR Codes have error correction, allowing up to 30% of these codes to be degraded or altered while rendering the codes still readable, it matters where this degradation takes place.
You can remove, alter, or degrade certain portions of the code while retaining readability but not others.
Although the full research study has yet to be released, the AIDC Lab has released a white paper outlining the main issues and the results. The goal of the paper — to answer the question: “What sort of design modifications can be made while still ensuring the maximum number of people will be able to scan the symbol?”
In general, there are three ways to alter QR Codes to incorporate a branded symbol or other design:
- Change the color
- Insert a graphic design inside the physical design of the code
- Geometrically distort the cells used to create the code
“While all of these work, it is important that the designer understand how the QR Code works so that they do not inadvertently damage key components or push those components beyond their ability to adjust,” write the authors of the paper.
For the study, more than 200 codes were scanned. In total, 166 responses were usable. Depending on the types of distortions used, researchers found that scanning would product different results. Ignoring the benchmark symbol, for example, resulted in read rates ranging from 9.6% to 88.6% — a huge range.
The implication of this is that, at best, 11% of the symbol’s target audience will not be able to read the bar code. And for almost half of the symbols 50% or more of the scanning public will not be able to decode the designer QR Code.
This a fascinating study that anyone involved in 2d barcode design, branding, and marketing campaign develop read. Before your designers start messing with the codes, thinking they can add branding as long as they degrade 30% of the code or less, make sure they know the facts. You can download a copy here.
On a completely unrelated note, I grew up in Athens, Ohio, where Ohio University is located, my father taught, and I spent much time on campus. This is the first time I’ve heard the university mentioned in connection with this industry, so this was really fun research to run across. Go Athens Bulldogs!