An impromptu discussion was launched in our office group chat when Steve shared this amusing link about QR codes gone wrong.

It’s not often that one gets a glimpse into what drives our designer, GW, or our developer, Patrick, but this topic seemed to touch a nerve; it sparked an internal discussion presenting two very different approaches and points of views that was both very amusing – in the contrast of opinions in as much as where we agreed – and informative.

GW: Always thought QR codes were useless. Here's why...
(From Why QR Codes Won't Last on Mashable)

  • Less than 5% of consumers have scanned a QR code.
  • Inadequate technology, lack of education, and a perceived dearth of value from QR codes are just three of the reasons mobile barcodes are not clicking with consumers.
  • Humans are visual animals. We have visceral reactions to images that a QR code can never evoke; what we see is directly linked to our moods, our purchasing habits and our behaviors.
  • In today’s increasingly mobile world, instant gratification is the norm, and taking the extra step of finding a QR code scanner on your mobile device no longer makes sense.
  • The world has already started to migrate to MVS (Mobile Visual Search). For example, companies in Argentina and South Korea currently allow commuters waiting for subways or buses to view images of groceries or office supplies.
  • With MVS, you simply point at a product or logo and shoot a picture with your smartphone’s built-in camera. Within seconds, the MVS application will provide product or company information, or even the option to make a purchase right then and there on your mobile device.

Patrick: What QR codes need, and don't currently have, is uptake from the phone manufacturers to build QR detection right into the camera on the phones. This would make QR codes a win overnight. No technology will survive on its own without support.

Steve: A "scan" button built into phone?

Patrick: Take a picture and the phone auto scans it for a recognizable QR code. If it finds one, adds a hyperlink on top of the photo, allowing the user to click it.

GW: I agree that technical support would help the lowly QR code but I still think that people are way more likely to take a pic of something they find attractive (ie. they connect with) than something that looks even worse than a barcode and emits zero emotional response.

Patrick: Yeah for sure, there's all kinds of technology crammed into the QR code, it's just tough to then make it look like something. For instance, up to 20%* of the QR code can be destroyed and the built-in error correction will still yield the full data it contains. Perfect for a movie poster with a torn corner.
*error tolerance ranges from 7-30%

Amelia: QR codes are just plain ugly.

Patrick: But is a barcode any nicer looking?

GW: Nope. But no one uses barcodes to promote products.

It's evident we still have much to learn about exploiting the QR code's full potential, but is it a losing battle? There’s very little one can do to alter its appearance to evoke that desired emotional response marketers so desperately seek; it lacks support from phone manufacturers, and probably won't get it until manufacturers see a need, and without a more promising adoption rate, that's not likely.

One begins to recognize the limitations of the QR code... Perhaps this tumblr site says it all.

There’s no telling whether QR codes will see an upturn in their potential value, but judging from some of its reckless applications in the wild, current strategies will require a complete overhaul — or at least some best practices defined — if that's to ever happen. The list of articles deriding the careless application of the QR code far outnumbers those which present successful campaigns.

If, however, you're still interested in exploring this as a marketing tool, here's one of the few articles with examples of the QR code used properly.