Have you ever seen an image like this and wondered what it was? You could be forgiven for thinking you're being forced into a Rorschach test (don't worry, you're not), and there's a high chance we will be seeing a lot more of them in the very near future. It's called a QR Code, read on to find out what it is and what it does.

What are QR Codes?

A Quick Response Code, or a QR Code is a type of two-dimensional barcode, except it's capable of storing up to 100 times the data of its predecessor. Developed by the Japanese Denso Corporation in 1994, QR codes were intended for quick tagging in the manufacture of car parts. However, technology quickly evolved, and the way in which QR codes were used became more creative and diverse (more on that later). Their use in Japan is unsurprisingly widespread (on almost everything, so I'm told), as this advert for NTT DoCoMo mobile phones suggests:

How does it work?

This image below explains the code structure for how QR codes work; thankfully the process for you to actually use them is a lot more straightforward. The camera on the majority of Japanese mobile phones was designed to read the data contained in a QR code; in the US & Europe the majority of handsets will require additional software capable of reading them.

QR Code-reading software for the iPhone

For a limited time only you can get Quickmark for free; which is an application for the iPhone to read both traditional and 2D barcodes.

    • Install and open your QR code-reading software
    • Take a photo / point your camera at the QR code
    • Depending on your handset, your phone's browser will automatically start and redirect you to the URL or request for you to confirm you wish to visit the link.


      As you can see from the screenshot on the right, Quickmark has some additional options for sharing your QR code including a send to Twitter option, email and the ability to generate QR codes for contact information.

Please note, I haven't used the following software so I have no idea how they work.

QR Code-reading software for Google Android

      Google's Product Search now includes a barcode scanner which is also capable of reading QR codes. At present,

this only works in the US & UK, more information here

QR Code-reading software for all other devices

Beetagg Reader

    seems to support the vast majority of popular brands such as HTC, Nokia, iPhone and Blackberry; simply sign up and you'll receive an SMS with a download link.

QR Code Generator list for creating your own

These are in abundance, a quick search returned the following:

Creative examples of QR-Code usage & opportunities

This is the really interesting part. As smartphones grow in popularity, the higher the likelihood of advertising campaigns using QR-codes as part of its message. Let's look at some examples of what's already been done, and what could happen in the future. Social Change - Bullying UK is the first charity to use QR codes this way (in the UK, at least). As part of its Anti-Bullying Poster Creator service, each poster created features several QR Codes. One of which directs you to the mobile-version of the poster, the other allows you to send a copy of the poster via MMS. You're also provided the option to send it to a smorgasbord of social networks.

Enviromentally Friendly Campaigns - Eventbrite (an online event registration company) tested an event using QR codes for ticketing with the intention to reduce waste and increase efficiency (sadly their blog post is no longer online). On a similar note, I was reading a magazine and there was an advert for Siemens' environmental policy, linked to from its QR code. The Downright Weird - a Japanese firm called Ishinokoe had an ingenius idea for QL codes - embedding them on your gravestone. Anyone walking past your gravestone can find out who you are with the aid of their mobile phone. I can't really see this one taking off in the UK.

Local Business Listings on Google - the search giant has just sent out up to 190,000 QR codes to the most searched-for business in its local directory. So if you start seeing these in the windows of a restaurant you've never visited before, it's possible you'll be able to read reviews on the spot.

Bands or artists could produce QR Codes for after exhibitions or concerts - if your budget doesn't stretch to printed merchandise or CDs, why not print some codes to drive traffic to your website or an alternative shopping link? Or to go one further, like one band did.. Use them to take political swipes at your government - the Pet Shop Boys attacked the UK's Big Brother surveillance laws by featuring over 2,000 real QR codes. Pause the video below to test the QR codes for yourself, they all link to various articles about personal freedoms and the like.

Increase your own visibility and 'person brand' - want more Facebook friends or followers on Twitter? How about having a t-shirt printed with a QR Code that leads to its URL? With the Facebook App, you install it on your profile and it generates the t-shirt. The design isn't particularly pretty though. As a more traditional alternative, you could create your vCard details in Outlook, upload it, create a QR Code of that URL and display it on your business card. It's certainly a cheaper approach to something like Dymo's Cardscan.

What the future has in store 

Color Code Technologies showcased its new Colour Construct Code (CCC) back in November at the Mobile Asia Congress, Hong Kong. This is capable of storing much more data and doesn't require an internet connection in order to access it. These colour codes can also be printed on inkjet printers, resulting in easier and more cost-effective distribution. One recent example involved a new record by Japanese group 'The Tenka'. A colour QR code was included on a promotional leaflet and when scanned, the data was converted into a song and stored on the phone. According to 2d Code, it's possible to add password encryption and expiration dates, making it ideal for a broad spectrum of promotions. The site also goes on to say that the decoder is available from the Nokia Ovi Store for a limited number of handsets. Please feel free to share your own examples of creative QR code usage in the comments below.