QR Code quality is paramount as it becomes an important marketing tool in every conceivable market and industry. As we have observed in the retail space, barcode performance at checkout is a major part of the customer experience—bad UPC barcodes on the product threaten customer loyalty. This truism extends to QR Code; 2013 Black Friday stats show increased use of QR Code as a price comparison tool for consumers. If it doesn’t help customers shop, the fallout is significant. What could go wrong? Plenty. Here are the five most important problems to avoid.
1. Data Correctness
The Uniform Resource Locator or URL address for a website must be correct in data sequence and structure, in compliance with global standards maintained by the W3 organization. That the web address must be error free is obvious but bears a special mention because it is so basic—and so often a problem.
2. Link Sustainability
The best, ergo the most likely to scan successfully QR Code is one that does not contain volumes of information. This is a balancing act–more about this in step 3. Lots of users will use a URL shortener service like Bitly, Google, Ow.ly and others to compress a long URL. This is good practice because it makes the QR Code smaller and makes it possible to track the usage of the QR Code. But there is a potential downside: the URL compression services don’t guarantee the life expectancy of the compressed URL—in fact they change their compression algorithms and kill earlier shortened URL’s all the time. If you assume the compressed URL in your QR Code will last for years, think again.
The minimum module size for a QR Code to be readable by most smart phones from about 10” is 500 microns (about 20mil). QR Codes come in several versions, defined by module counts X and Y: 21×21, 25×25, 29×29, etc. : the more data, the more modules. But the QR Code must not expand to a footprint that’s larger than the retail package or label can accommodate–and space is always tight. Consequently, as the data content increases, the module size must sometimes decrease to fit the package. If the module must be smaller than the optimal 500 micron size, scanning success is jeopardized on lower resolution smart phones. This is the balancing act between URL length and symbol size.
4. The Landing Page
An altogether too frequent mistake is failing to build a landing page that is optimized for viewing on a mobile device. We have scanned countless QR Codes that send us to a webpage built for desktop computers. We end up scrolling up and down and back and forth just to view it all—for about 5 seconds before we leave and never come back.
Customizing the QR Code is almost always done by relying on the error correction to compensate for the design “damage”. This seems beyond stupid to me since most of the QR Code designers I know don’t own a verifier and therefore don’t actually test their wonderful designs to see if they actually work. A few claim to “test” their symbols with their iPhone and if it works, assume it will also work on your Android or Blackberry—which it might or might not. My opinion? Don’t mess with the QR Code design. Make it obvious and worthwhile for somebody to scan the QR Code and the lack of a clever design won’t slow them down at all—but if the clever design kills the QR Code, where’s the victory in that?
The author thanks Mr. Bruno Rolland of Axicon in Paris, France, for his kind assistance in writing this article.