Balloon QR Code on New York Times Magazine Cover

Today’s New York Times Magazine cover (artwork by Karim Charlebois-Zariffa) has a QR Code composed from colored balloons (image below). You are not alone if you have difficulty in scanning the code on the cover, both Patrick Donnelly of QR Arts and myself had to use every trick in the book to get it to work.

It actually resolves to short video clips specially commissioned for this 10th Annual Ideas Issue of the magazine. There is a good takeaway for agencies here. What works in the studio, with good lighting and using the latest mobile device with a good scanning app, will probably fail in print.

Cover of the New York Times Magazine with a QR Code

The poor quality image above was taken from Karim’s video “The Balloon Code: The making of the cover for the 10th annual Year in Ideas Issue” (video below). Yesterday I tried to obtain a higher quality image of the cover by emailing Diane Mcnulty, Executive Director Community Affairs and Media Relations at The New York Times but so far I have not even had the courtesy of a reply. (Update: I have replaced the original image with a better one that Patrick sent me).

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20 thoughts on “Balloon QR Code on New York Times Magazine Cover”

  1. I was able to scan that QR Code instantly on my android phone using mobiletag reader.
    I have a dozen QR Code readers, and Mobiletag reader is by far the best…atleast on my android!

  2. Very creative and interesting attempt at a deployment. iPhone 3GS, Denso QRdeCode reader and, while it took a moment or so, it scanned just fine. The site I was directed to, however, was not appropriately mobilized for the iPhone. Even the New Your Times doesn’t get it! What do we need to do to educate people before the end user experience is completely polluted to the point of them not wanting to play any more?

  3. Robert,

    Please don’t post my previous reply. After testing the code three more times it ultimately resolved properly and I wouldn’t want to post something inaccurate.

    Thank You

  4. I love the idea behind this, but like many examples in this area, the mobile user experience was not considered properly. Although I had no problems scanning this code on my iPhone and Android phone using the AT&T scanner, the site the code links to is not optimized for mobile. In fact, on my Samsung Captivate, is is just a long page of headlines with the words “Unsupported Video” below them.

  5. I love that people are sharing that some of your readers work, but that’s not the point. We shouldn’t have to get the right reader for our circumstance to read these unnecessarily cluttered art-codes. It’s the code not the reader. Any QR code I use for a client’s mobile site is tested across multiple devices and reader apps. Black code on white background. Period.

    The Times should know this, especially if they are presenting QR codes to the world on the cover of the New York Times Magazine; but the fact that the code (if readable) takes the user to an unusable site on most phones simply shows that nobody bothered to check if any of this would work before signing off on it.

    Here’s what I think happened: some middle guy at the agency scanned the balloons on his Android phone with Flash enabled, on a particular barcode reader he happened to get from the Marketplace; he saw what he wanted to see; and boom! out to the world.

    A lesson for all of us here.

  6. Wow! QR is growing fast. No problem scanning in my Nexus One (Android) with QR Droid

    About prev. comment. I think too QR codes must be black over white, but I think it’s nice to see this colorful image until it gets more popular. I’m pretty sure that will attract a lot of attention!!

    After QR are known by everyone, I think they can remain b/w 😛

    Anyway, it’s nice too that readers can decode EVEN those QR arts 😀

  7. I think that this is a great idea with a flawed execution. I have an iphone 4 with several scanners and only i-nigma and red laser worked. That is clearly not acceptable for such a prominent QR story. Don’t get me wrong about designer codes. I’m all for them and have seen many that are both creative and functional. This one is creative but not very functional. I get the Times delivered and it took me a while to recognize that the magazine cover was even a QR code. I’m sure that most readers didn’t get it at all. Those of us who are proponents of 2D codes are always on the look out for them, and it makes for an academic discussion here about the pluses and minuses of their usage. I can’t help but think of this as the largest wasted opportunity I’ve yet seen regarding popularizing these codes here in the US.

  8. Great Article! That was a very creative way to show a QR code. Here at Scanlutions ( we create codes for our clients use as well as advise them on how best to use them properly. Thanks again for the info-

  9. Hi all,

    No problem decoding with iphone or ipod touch using PromoMee (more than a qr code scanner)

    More info

    I do agree, best practices were not applied, website/page should be mobilized. Also, u increase the chance for more users to succeed in scanning, if QR was just black & white…But nice design!

    Learn more on some examples of QR Code and Print Marketing Best Practices.


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