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How NOT to use QR codes

Real world examples of poor QR code use

Plainly said, these are QRAP QR codes.

It is really unfortunate to have to see these kinds of completely avoidable mistakes with QR codes happen all the time still. Without repudiation, to the parties concerned. I will try where possible to disguise identities if required. The purpose is not expose or insult anyone, mealy show how things can be done better with the hope that everyone can learn from others mistakes and not repeat them.

Also have a look at examples of QR codes used correctly.

Example 1. What is wrong with this QR code

QR code abuse

  • It is a negative of QR specification (black on a white background)
  • Colour contrast low (back and white = most contrast = best results)

Knowing that not all mobile phones and QR code reader software are created alike, the result will be that a portion of the readers used to scan this code will not get a result. The colours chosen for this design only enhance the chance of scan failure.

What is behind this QR code.

This is where the QR code landed

To a portal page that is surprisingly adaptive to mobile devices, but seems to be some user or administrator landing page with options to manage hosting, web-mail and a MySQL phpMyAdmin link.

I seriously doubt this is supposed to be the intention, but it is hard reality unfortunately.

I tried to get into contact with them, but found no direct address other than having to register and login, which was not an option.

The use of QR codes as in this example has no value to anyone. The most is does is waist peoples time and degrade the value of QR code use.

What can be learned from this?

  1. Do not believe everything you are told about QR codes and how to use them. Check your facts.
  2. Make sure your support systems (website/service) are in place, functional and tested before you publish your QR codes.
  3. Designer QR codes are attractive but come at a price bigger than just the budget. Do you know the cost?
  4. If you are not sure or do not know what you are doing or getting into, consult professionals. 

Tip: If there is no added value for the people scanning your QR codes, don't bother using them as they may just work against you instead of for you. Maybe connect the VVK paylogic to the QR code so people can order tickets for the event...just an idea.

Example 2. Missed opportunity.

Example 1; Unreadable QR code

Lesson: Always 'try' to make QR codes scanable. In this case the QR code could have sent a person scanning it to this very useful and helpful article about QR code sizes. Click on the screen-shot above to get the original QR code image and see if you can decode it. We would appreciate to know if you can.

Example 3. QR codes as time wasters.

A car dealer using QR codes in a local newspaper, that could be promising. Allow you to select car by model, or color or age or price on your mobile phone, that would be cool. Let's scan it!

Car dealer QR code advert


The Scan Experience

After scanning the QR code a wait of two minutes while it loaded information for HDTV resolution display screens occurred. At the end of the page download it was clear that this website is geared for computer displays and is not mobile friendly(see browser result image). The text for the add that reads "or scan this QR-code with your mobile phone to go directly to our website' should maybe have been, 'or scan this QR-code with your webcam to go directly to our web site. It could be possible that they are real early adapters and are targeting tablet devices only, however I doubt that, as they talk about using a mobile phone and not a tablet. I really wish marketing companies and their clients would do their homework first. For me, scanning this QR code has unfortunately been a very disappointing experience.

The lesson to learn here is once again the classic mistake that is easily avoided: QR codes are scanned by mobile phones, so at least try to make your landing pages mobile phone friendly.

Example 4. QR codes and television.

How CNN messed up with QR codes on television

CNN QR Code Error

A picture says a thousand words.

Using QR codes on television like this really defeats the purpose completely. The mistake here is that the designer of the QR code backdrop did not take ticker and news bar overlay formats into account, rendering the QR code completely unreadable.

Example 5: Media Hype influence gone wrong

Another classic example of a lot of money thrown at nothing. I just wonder who gets the blame here. The end result is known though, the people scanning the QR code will be left a feeling wondering why they bothered to scan the thing in the first place!.

Potplanten Fail

Potplant QRAP

The QR code in a more scanable format so you can check on the current status youself..if you really want too!
I wish someone would arrange worships between advertising companies and QR code specialists as it is promotional activities like this that leave potential clients out in the cold with a no win-win for anybody and the advertiser having to pay the bill for a totally failed marketing campaign.
These typical oversights and failures are easily avoidable with a little more effort and a lot less cash down the drain.

On the mobile phone


QR code lessons to be learned here
  • Do not proclaim your landing page to be designed for mobile phones while it is not the case. (certainly not mine!)
  • Do not send the user to a web-page that has no added value at all for the user taking the trouble and effort for scanning your QR code, you can just print the URL, it takes less marketing space (hopefully) and is probably less expensive and more productive.
  • Do not launch press-releases on Internet or activate social media when you are not ready and prepared for it, claiming things that you do not deliver and cannot live up too.

I may however have missed the point completely. Maybe the QR code was not intended for the purpose the article covers, or maybe the QR code was a sample or test. Maybe the 'mobile page' is designed only for iPhones and certain HTC models and not for mobile phones in general, knowing that it is very difficult to create mobile websites that are perfect irrespective of the device. It does however not take away that this was a rather disappointing waist of time QR code scan.

Tips: Keep QR code landing pages to the point, simple, and appropriate. If you cannot then do not bother, you are only waisting your time (and other peoples time, who will - if they scan your code and remember you - never become your customers), and your money.

Example 6:

Institutional failures are the worst kind. Waisting taxpayers money and time and in this case abusing technology. This is an example of municipal proportion. The idea was to place signs at set intervals that provide a SMS and QR code scanning service to guide cyclists to the nearest refreshment opportunity in their area. A lot of promotion with articles in the newspapers, magazines and on-line. April the first was the launch date and it does appear to be a very poor April fools joke indeed as this article has been written a week after launch with current information.

Cyclist assist QR codes

Would you like some coffee or tea? Is the question. By sending a SMS (to a number that is not mentioned) or scanning the QR code(s) you are led to believe you will be guided or directed to the nearest watering hole. However nothing of the sorts is presented here at all.

The problem.

  • No SMS number mentioned for this service
  • Both QR codes take the user to the home page of the local municipality
  • Both websites are not mobile friendly.
  • All the QR codes on the panels are the same
  • Some panels are placed in areas where there is poor to no coverage.

One of the sites behind the QR code on an Android and a Symbian system. Note how empty and useless the page is. This is because the web developers thought it a good idea to make the site multilingual, have no default language and only populate the Dutch version, obviously tourists are not welcome here. Both devices were set to English at the time of scanning.

One of the sites behind the QR code on an Android and a Symbian system. Note how empty and useless the page is. This is because the web developers thought it a good idea to make the site multilingual, have no default language and only populate the Dutch version, obviously tourists are not welcome here. Both devices were set to English at the time of scanning.

The solution(s)

  • Give each panel a unique QR code, so you can identify the location.
  • Use Dynamic QR codes so you can make unforeseen changes.
  • If the landing page is not mobile friendly, don't use QR codes.
  • If you give instructions to SMS, provide a working number.

Although a great idea for a great service, the implementation has been completely botched. This project is guaranteed to fail and discourage people to scan QR codes. It's a shame, but there is hope. Dare I mention this.... What this project needs is a dose of QR code terrorism. This is where the original QR codes are obscured by sticking a different QR code sticker on top of the original one.

Another classic QR Fail

Not Just Pink QR Code Fail

Amateur play time! 

Not Just Pink Mobile unfriendly web
When amateurs play with QR codes they always start by breaking the golden rule. If you ask people to scan your QR code with a mobile or smart-phone (see poster instructions) then the least you should do is send them to a web page suitable for those devices. I'm sure this stunt will be regarded by their marketing people as a failure and they probably will not even know why.

Another botanist that should stick to plants.

PUUR waist of time QR code

Pure waist of time.

PUUR Mobile unfriendly website.


This landing-page is not related to the plant on which the QR code was found, but asks you to (try) and read the long list of herbs they have and then "click" on it (with a stylus, a stick or something very thin) to get more information.

This kind of QR code use is just plain silly.

Next time first make a mobile website and then the QR code!

This site is:

1. Unreadable.

2. Unnavigable.


Two wrongs don't make a right

It may be a triple problem however notice  the small negative QR code on the bottom right of the image below. It is so small no phone (even with auto focus) can focus on the image when the image is sufficiently on screen for a potential scan, it's just a bit too small. Secondly the image is negative, black is white and white is black, many older QR code scanner cannot read this.

Camex QR Code Card

And then thirdly, once you find a QR scanner that does manage to read it, it goes to a very mobile unfriendly web page.


Camex QR Web Page

For those who want to test their QR code scanners against this QR code, below is a resized and cleaned up version of the QR code image from the card above.

Camex QR Code

Unique by being different

A serious Q4 2011 QR code blunder by a company that can afford an advertorial in a newspaper. But before you get exited check it out. It is a debt collecting agency (pretty obvious in a failing economy of power and money greedy politicians and bankers who still today are allowed to and continue to empower and enrich themselves and this stupidity rubs off onto others)

Expensive QR code Lesson

They claim to be unique by daring to do things differently. By keeping up-to-date with changes and being ahead of the rest. Someone should inform them that they did not do their homework properly, and by doing things differently have clearly shown they should stick to what they think they know best and leave other business to other professionals, as here is another perfect example of why modern technology will fail when placed in the hands of money and power hungry opportunists. This QR code is just a waist of real-estate, money and other peoples time. Scan the code if you want too, but it is just a waist of time.

Rule #1: Though shalt not sent QR code scanners to a web page designed for large format computer screens.

For debt collectors = It's like taking your money and burning it.

Debt Collectors QR Code FAIL

Podium for design or podium for disaster?

You be the judge. It starts off really well, a small QR code on the rear of the flyer. But is when things turn bad.

Podium for design
Podium for disaster
1. Use an offshore 'Walled Garden' paid QR code service to get 'statistics'
2. Use an offshore paid non-dynamic QR code service.
3. Be surprised when the results are really poor because basically all the QR code commandments and more have been broken or ignored completely.
YIP: It just goes to another non-mobile friendly web page with very little to offer. I do hope the next effort is better because this did show potential.

What do persian carpets and QR codes have in common

Nothing, and I vote it stays that way. As this is what happens when a local persian carpet sales outlet gets tech savy with QR codes.

Either do your homework about using new technology, replace your marketing agency or don't use things you do not understand. Persian Carpet QR Code

Persian Carpet non-friendly we site

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