How To Use QR Codes (and what are they?)

by nicole on July 16, 2011

I’m a believer that QR codes will become big.  But it seems like no one really knows what they are or how to use them.  Here’s a run down to help you stay ahead of the curve.

What does QR mean?

QR stands for Quick Response.  These codes are square barcodes that can be read by a dedicated barcode scanner or, more importantly, your smartphone’s camera.  The codes can contain a URL (when scanned, your browser will open to the website that was embedded), text, or other data.

Where can you find QR codes?

What’s great about this technology is that it can be used in many different ways.  Many people mistakenly think these codes are restricted to physical products and therefore are unsure how to take advantage of them.  But that isn’t true.  Many app developers include these codes on their site to drive traffic to the App Store or the Android Market where potential customers can download their app.  So your phone is more than capable of scanning the code off your computer screen.


Some examples of the use of QR codes I have seen are:

  • An Old Navy “Easter Egg Hunt” where QR codes were displayed on an Easter egg design on signs around the store.  Every time you found an egg and scanned it, you were sent to a site to enter their sweepstakes.
  • Laptop shopping at Best Buy brought me into contact with their QR code campaign.  Every laptop (and I’m assuming every gadget in the store) had a QR code on it’s label that took you to their website where more technical specs were available as well as any reviews by past purchasers.
  • Surprisingly, these codes were also found at Home Depot on the sticks (with the corresponding plant information) that are in the soil of the perennials we were picking up.  More information on the plant and how to take care of it were at the site we were sent to.
  • I’ve included a QR code on the reverse of my mommy card (like a business card, but with personal info) that links to my profile.
  • A friend thought it would be cool if I talked a client of mine (I’m a graphic designer) into having a QR code that sends people to their wedding website on their Save the Dates or Invitation inserts.

Another convenient use would be embedding a vCard contact into a QR code so that someone can scan the code and have you added as a contact in their phone automatically.  But until everyone is educated on how to use and take advantage of the codes, these great ideas may be lost on the majority of the population.

How do you scan one? 

There are many paid and free apps available for both the iPhone and Android platform.  If you are using an Android device, I recommend giving Kaywa Reader or ShopSavvy a try.  Open the app, select Scan Barcode (obviously different on other apps), and direct your phone’s camera at the barcode.  Usually you’ll see the barcode with a red scanning line reading it.  Once successfully read, whatever the code contains will pop up.  Simple and easy to use.  Go ahead and try to scan the code above.

Want to take it to the next level?  You can make your own here!


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