QR Code cupcake blue frosting by clevercupcakes

Montreal-based clevercupcakes brand links to Montreal Science Center website with edible QR code

QR codes (Quick Response codes) are nothing new. Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave created QR codes in 1994 for vehicle part manufacturers to track equipment. QR Codes are popular in Japan and South Korea but have been slower to catch on in the West. A QR code is a matrix barcode presented by a 2D image of black or colored modules in a square pattern on white background.

Either dedicated QR barcode readers or camera phones can read the images. If you want to read a QR code with your iPhone, you need to download a third party app. I love the potential these things have, and the marketing applications are endless. So why aren’t they ubiquitous in the US yet?

Pros – QR codes:

  • Hardlinking (linking to the internet from physical world objects). This is too cool. (Yet it also walks a fine line between nature and e. (Imagine a forest carved into a bird’s-eye view QR code: Thoughts?)

Kylie Minogue’s 2010 All the Lovers music video hardlinked nicely with a QR code which scans to produce the word LOVE:

  • Convenience and mobility
  • Ability to share a vCard (electronic business card)

Obstacles to Adoption of QR codes:

  • Lack of an out of the box QR code reader
  • Lack of consumer awareness (whereas in Japan, QR codes are quotidian)

These obstacles go hand in hand; fortunately, they can be temporary.

Last year, we considered using SPARQcode QR codes as a value-add for an exhibition. Museum guests begin a tour by receiving historically accurate replica boarding passes. With the assigned identity of a real life passenger, guests visit artifact and room recreation galleries. Some obstacles to QR implementation were both physical and intangible: limited space on the boarding passes for directions and concern about accessibility for patrons without phones or savvy- would it frustrate people?

Bump…what? Business Cards:

SPARQcode and competitors are marketing QR codes for business cards. Members of the former can make their own SPARQ.me personal profile page that opens from a scanned code. E.g. here is Mike Emery’s, one of the SPARQcode founders.

The codes seem like a novelty but not a must-have; if you’re getting out your phone to interact with a business card, why didn’t that Bump app ever take off?

There is still a disconnect which prevents hardlinking. Maybe Americans are too unconsciously tied to keeping what’s left of the physical world separate from their phones. We don’t want our networking to be too networked. Or is it the discomfort of letting a third party app guide you to a URL you may not trust? Twitter has spoiled us in the driver’s seat…

With the vCard piece, you’re adding a digital layer to paper. It seems more intuitive to exchange information digitally in the first place and save the paper. QR codes don’t yet have the clout to obviate traditional paper cards for most business people. (Niche communities love QR though, from comic books – Carnivale De Robotique – to music labels.)


Frankly, I loathe paper. It puzzles me that paper business cards have stuck around this long, especially in digital and marketing. Who keeps and organizes all those cards? Do they use a Rolodex? Should I get one? Where can I get one?

Hopefully by this time next year this post will be moot and I won’t carry plastic since my phone will be my credit card.