Designer QR Codes? The Jury Is Still Out….

Designer QR Code for 2d-code websiteAnyone who has run successful QR Code campaigns will tell you that the most important non-technical factor for success is the perceived value to the target audience of the reward. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that “scan for free beer” will outperform “scan for terms and conditions”. In fact this factor is such an important contributor to success that some will even argue that you can forget everything else.

There are of course though many lesser factors and one school of thought claims that for any given campaign a designer QR Code will outperform a standard black and white code. This claim is made without any real evidence and what little evidence is available is either anecdotal or from an unpublished study (probably unpublished for a very good reason).

Other experienced marketers will claim that a black and white QR Code is instantly recognizable and for any given campaign will be scanned more often than a designer QR Code that looks like a puzzling work of art to the consumer. This is also a claim made without any real evidence. The truth is that until a reputable institution conducts a well controlled and peer reviewed study we will not know for certain if either view is correct and if it is, under what circumstances and by how much.

Meanwhile Ohio University AIDC Lab have published a white paper version of the results of a designer QR Code “scanability” study (prior to publishing the full version of the study later this summer).

The research consisted of a simple online survey in which participants were asked to say if they were able to successfully scan a series of different designer QR Codes. There were 21 designer QR Codes with varying degrees of distortion and 1 standard black and white QR Code as a control. Over 200 responses were collected of which 166 participants actually completed the survey. Data from incomplete surveys was added to the data pool resulting in instances were some images had more data collected then others.

For each designer QR Code, the overall percentage of successful reads was calculated, as was a breakdown of the successful read rate for each operating system.

The results were grouped by cell phone brand and model and successful read rates (the percent of people who said they could scan a given symbol) were calculated for each group. For each designer QR Code the overall percentage of successful reads was calculated, as was a breakdown of the successful read rate for each operating system.

The principle result showed the read rates for the designer QR Codes ranged from 9.6% to 88.6% with an average of 61.5%. The implication of this was that at best 11% of the target audience will not be able to read the designer QR Code.

There are at least two serious problems with this study in my opinion. Consumers mostly scan QR Codes from print media not from screens. Of course scanning designer QR Codes in print media is not without its potential problems, ambient light, print quality, paper gloss etc., etc. However scanning from screens presents a whole different set of possible problems, screen contrast, screen brightness, RGB color settings, gamma correction etc., all of which will vary from screen to screen. I think there is a danger that the results of this study may be thought to apply to designer QR Codes in print media when clearly they do not.

Secondly because of the small number of participants the specific scanning app used was an uncontrolled variable. As there are probably ten times as many different apps in existence as there were participants in the study it is quite likely that the differences in the quality of the app used is of greater significance than the differences between the designer QR Codes.

However the author concludes: The thought that the reader needs to leave with is not “will it scan” but “how many people can I safely alienate?” Because, as this research has shown, any given designer QR Code will probably scan for someone – but not necessarily for the intended audience.

In practice the author’s conclusion may or may not be correct but in my opinion this study should not convince anyone either way. Designer QR Codes? The jury is still out….

3 thoughts on “Designer QR Codes? The Jury Is Still Out….”

  1. Great report. We have been looking to add designer QR codes to our print media designs. We are not seeing the website traffic we hope to earn from the basic black and white QR codes but are most recent test with designer codes have proven to get better response. I would be interested in hearing what others have to say.

  2. It’s unfortunate that research about designer QR codes vs. black and white ones is lacking. And I agree that Ohio experiment may not be directly applicable to actual marketing efforts since a marketer would most likely try to scan the designer QR codes him or herself prior to printing it on their materials therefore “scanability” may be higher than what the study found.

    There’s some research about how Color Matters http://www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/why-color-matters that talks about how the use of color attracts attention for longer and also is more memorable so perhaps with designer codes, a passerby may be more likely to see the code and pay attention to it.

  3. Do you remember what Denso Wave ADC, inventor of the QR Code said in “QR Code® Essentials. ©2011”? “Using QR Code generating software that is not ISO compliant can be especially problematic if the QR Code is to be read by Smartphones, whose quality may greatly vary… Only ISO Compliant QR Code generating software can ensure maximum symbol readability“.

    In august 2011, mobiLead released the QR+™ cutting edge technology – a real breakthrough in the QR Code industry, able to create millions of highly graphical ISO compliant QR Codes. The QR+ solution enables the creation of large series of highly graphical QR Codes. The innovative and patent published technology allows the merge of a regular QR Code with any image, picture or logo into a highly graphical ISO/IEC 18004 compliant code to be read by any QR Code reader.

    Last year, in partnership mobiLead, Stardust, a company specialized in supporting quality for publishers and developers of mobile services, did a major testing campaign on QR Code readability – a set of 18 QR Codes tested on 53 devices (32 Android, 7 iOS and 14 WP7) and 5 QR Code readers for each.
    Some key results of this study are as follows:
    – ECC should never be used will customizing a QR Code;
    – ISO/IEC 18004 compliant QR Codes are readable. Not only they are readable but also could be read is a very fast way, which helps to improve the end-user perception;
    – The minimum size of a QR Code is limited by : the Smartphone camera, the quality of paper, the quality of ink, the definition of the printer, the version of RIP (Raster Image Processor) software used;

    In partnership with Axicon, a leading barcode verification solution provider, mobiLead is able to mesure printed QR Codes in order to issue an ISO/IEC 18004 certificate of compliance to the norm (Grade A to F) – a formal readability certificate.

    mobiLead is an expert on NFC, QR Code and Web of Things (WoT) at World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). mobiLead is an expert group leader on NFC, QR Code and Internet of Things (IoT) at AFNOR/ISO.

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