Advanced technology, smartphones, lightweight tablets, etc., has increased online activity so that it now forms a substantial component of most people’s lives, even those in the retirement bracket. Along with this the use of QR codes has also developed and become an increasingly popular method of connectivity. This article will consider: what a QR Code is (for those who may not know); it’s components; how they are created; how they operate; and how authors may utilise them.
A QR Code (Quick Response Code) is a two dimensional, machine readable, optical label that has width and height but no thickness. Traditionally they are made up of black squares on a white background though advanced technology has now made it possible to create them in colour. However, readers should note, for a colour QR Code to operate properly there needs to be a clear contrast between the colours utilised. If not, they may not be capable of being read.
These codes were originally designed in 1994 for Japan’s automobile industry, particularly for ordering motor parts. However, they were quickly adopted by the wider world when their clean, quick, uncomplicated, style and use became evident.
It is not necessary to understand the technical aspect of these codes to use them but it never hurts to have some comprehension, especially in a world that readily abuses such technology.
The elements that make up a code are:
Quiet Zone – This is the clean border surrounding the geometric design. Without it an electronic reader will be unable to determine what is contained within the code.
Finder Pattern – This comprises the three black squares located at the top right, top left, and bottom left corners of the design. These indicate to the digital reader it is looking at a QR Code.
Alignment Pattern – Smaller squares near the bottom right corner. These enable the code to still be read even if it is distorted or at an angle.
Timing Pattern – An ‘L’ shaped line that travels between the three squares of the finder pattern (see above). This helps the electronic reader identify individual components and enables a damaged code to be read.
Version Information – Small amount of information near top right that identifies the QR Code version (numeric; alphanumeric; byte (computer code); etc). There is no need to go into further detail for the average user.
Data Cells – The remainder of the code that communicates the information contained in it.
QR Codes are principally visual (optical) interpretations of longer alphanumeric information, mostly URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) that lead to an online site or page.
Creating a QR Code is a simple process. All that is required is a code generator. There are many free options for the average user as well as priced alternatives. An internet search will produce a list of available generators. However, before bothering with a full search, it may be worthwhile looking in the app (applications) store that comes with the majority of software systems. There are usually at least one or two available options.
To create the unique QR Code all that is necessary is for the user to enter the characters of an alphanumeric url in the text panel displayed. A QR code is then, usually, created within seconds. Depending upon the generator being used, there may also be the facility to change colours (remembering the necessity for contrast as mentioned above) and sometimes to also add a logo that helps identify the brand. However, it should be noted, most applications require the user to have a paid account in order to add a logo. The visual image code may then be downloaded and/or saved to a location of the users choosing.
The majority of new mobile technologies (smartphones and tablets) are able to hold QR Code reading apps. Again, these are available from most system app stores. And yet again there are many free options though the user should be aware, the free ones tend to be inundated with advertisements that often initially get in the way. Nevertheless, it just requires patience, for a few seconds, to make them a viable tool, especially for those with limited budgets.
To action the code, a user opens the reader function and then points the device’s camera, that the reader utilises, at the code image. The app then reads the code and directs the user to the relevant site or page, which opens within the device’s default browser. The facility is usually straightforward and user friendly. All that has to be remembered, is to ensure the site or page link is clicked rather than the link to an advertisement.
In accordance with this websites principle intent of helping authors, the uses to which a QR Code may be put will be the primary considered from that perspective. Nevertheless, much may be applied to any business (and remember, authoring, like it or not, is now a business).
Communication is the principle use for QR Codes. Naturally, this includes publicity and marketing. Every online site and page has its own unique url therefore, as QR Codes are made up of these, they may be used to direct a person wherever the creator designates. For example:
- A retail or information page (Amazon, Goodreads, etc.).
- A Landing Page.
- A profile page.
- A social media account.
- A website or blog.
- A trailer or additional material video, image, podcast, etc.
- A review page.
- A self-help or how-to video or article. (Useful for those who write non-fiction.)
- Etc. (There is no limit, provided there is an associated computer code to utilise.)
QR Codes are versatile and may be utilised with almost any visual format e.g.:
- Business cards.
- In email signatures.
- Website or Blog pages.
- Social Media posts.
- Book back matter. (Some suggest using them to direct the reader to a review page.)
- Etc. (Yet again the possibilities are only limited by a users imagination.)
Some suggest placing the QR Code in a frame so that it stands out in a cleaner presentation. This is not a requirement and is entirely at the creator’s (author’s) discretion.
One point some draw out is, to ensure there is some indication of where the code leads so people know what they are going to gain from following it. A fair point in view of the consistent increase in hacking and cyber crime.
In this technologically oriented world, QR Codes certainly have their place and are an excellent additional commodity for crisp communication. Especially true because of their capability of encapsulating information in a simple, clean, diagrammatic visual format.
Generating and using QR Codes, with the appropriate apps, are straightforward functions which most, even those who consider themselves technologically challenged, may master.
QR Codes are also attractive for users who are now accustomed to, and look for, fast, almost immediate, responses. Apparently utilising a QR Code also increases the conversion rate i.e. more likely to result in a sale or subscription. The writer has no statistics to support this opinion but it does no hurt for an author to add to their arsenal something that may bring such a result.