Ditch They QR Codes, Dude

Let’s take a look at why you should ditch the Quick Response (QR) codes, in favour of a simpler approach. Not only do QR codes require a certain level of knowledge, but they also require a device with a camera and software to read it in order to take you to the codes content.

Why QR Codes Are Bad


Inc. research in 2012 suggested 97% of consumers didn’t know what a QR code was. That figure seems pretty high but even if it were a little lower it’s still a huge amount of people who aren’t sure about them. The Inc. research also highlighted that most consumers didn’t know which app to use to read the codes, or how to get their hands on an app that did.


They are cumbersome to use. They require you to have a QR code reader to scan the code. Once scanned it’ll take you to the information, usually a website. QR codes appear on anything from posters to moving targets like a bus. If the user doesn’t have a QR code reader and a bus went past with a QR code the chances of them downloading an App just to scan it are slim at best. At times it just creates a barrier rather than a benefit, introducing an extra step to the process which not everyone is able to pass. The idea behind them is to take you quickly to information and if used incorrectly can do the exact opposite.


Marketers often make an assumption about their users or customers - that they are actually willing to interact with their advertising. Not a lot of customers will want to go to the effort of downloading an app, scanning the code and visiting the content behind it often on a mobile roaming connection just to see some advertising with little gain. It would be even worse if they were linking their customers to a site not optimised for mobile devices.

QR Codes User Experience

From a user experience point of view I would argue that often they are misleading. If you’re given a URL to navigate to in your own time you can make a good assumption of where you’re going based on the text in the URL. That is lost in a QR code unless it’s wrapped with good clear content. Take the eBay bus QR codes pictured above as an example. Will the QR codes take you to a specific product, a search term, category, or will they add something to your lists? Each could be seen as a reasonable result but doubt is introduced with blindly scanning a code.

One bad experience with a QR code could be enough for the user or customer to tar all QR codes with the same brush.

Accessibility of QR Codes

Physical Effort

To scan a QR code you need to be able to hold a camera phone reasonably steady at a certain distance. The further away from the code the more difficult it can be to capture it. These could present barriers to those who may find holding the phone steady enough to capture an image. This could also be used as a benefit for the QR code however, as undoubtedly some people will find it easier to scan a code than type in a long URL.

Visual Effort

Of course, visibility comes into play when scanning a QR code. If the user is blind or visually impaired they may not be able to locate and scan the code depending on how its presented and where it’s located. Again, there could be a benefit behind the QR code for people with visual impairments in that if the code links to audio content the possibilities open to providing those users with safety information or instructions, which could otherwise be difficult to present.

Alternative Methods

Instead of using QR Codes, there is other ways to get your visitors to your content.

Short URLs

Short URLs could be used to create small snappy strings which a user could remember or note down for later. If done correctly a short URL can be very memorable. Services such as Bitly can be used to create short URLs for your content. According to the Inc. research you can safely assume people are more likely to recognise and know what to do with a URL over a QR code. URLs are not tied to visual content, they can be used in audio marketing such as radio adverts or phone conversations. If marketed in a larger scale the URL may even become universally recognisable.

Google Goggles

Google has a little tool called Google Goggles which lets you “use pictures to search the web”. Whilst this doesn’t address some of the issues a QR code has, such as requiring an app, it does seem an interesting alternative.


WTF QR CODES is a site curated by Brad Frost and Craig Villamor which has examples of QR codes gone wrong. It’s also where some of the images used in this post are from.

Stop Using QR Codes?

Used correctly they can be fit for purpose. A user group which is engaged in the subject matter is more likely to use the QR codes, such as gaining clues for a prize or to collect reward points. Having said that, are they really the best option out there?

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