Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Three Good Practice Rules of QR Codes

At the moment scanning a QR code is a bit like a lucky dip. Occasionally you get a prize, but usually you get an unreadable landing page. At least it is unreadable on a smartphone, and as most people scan QR codes from a smartphone taking the scanner to a page that cannot be read is, well, just plain silly. However, when the user gets home, in this cloud connected world, they might use a tablet PC or a desktop to revisit your landing page.

I cannot resist scanning QR codes and have collected a fair few examples of codes that amuse me for all the wrong reasons. However,  I have started to wonder how much money is now being wasted by companies persuaded that QR codes are the next big thing. Interactions with customers should be handled thoughtfully whether they are in person, in writing, and on-line.  The QR code is just another link in the process, and if you can't be bothered to make sure the customer can read it then consider what sort of message you are sending about you, and your business.

Designing web pages for a wide range of platforms, browsers and screen sizes is not easy but it can be done. For a working example look at the q-action pages . To date we have focussed on meeting W3C standards and using a fluid layout that works on everything we have tested it on. The content is completely independent of style so we know that we have many options to change the page style in the future.  So our first QR code good practice rule is:
Always design your QR code landing pages so they can be viewed on any device, with any screen size using any web browser.
The next issue is one of security. There are already reports in the press of QR codes being used to take users to "toxic" sites that are used for phishing or malware attacks. This type of problem is only going to get worse,  so in anticipation q-action already has some built in protection. Q-action cards always link to a secure https: location rather than a http: location. Some QR code scanners can already be set to only re-direct to such sites. https: does not guarantee security, but it is a very good step in the right direction. The q-action app also uses the Google Safe Browsing API to minimise the chance that any q-action page will link to a toxic site. So our second QR code good practice rule is:
Ensure that users have confidence in using QR codes by only linking to safe and secure locations that will not cause harm or offence.
Now consider timeliness.  Your printed QR code will last much, much longer than: your advertising campaign; your role in your company; your event; and probably anything else you link to with it. So what happens next? Our third QR code good practice rule is:
Make sure the QR code has longevity beyond its short term use by updating its message or ultimate landing page.
Finally you are ready to follow all the rest of the good advice that is out there including: location, message, and content. If you are having trouble meeting these good practice guidelines then consider using q-action as your QR code hosting service.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Up-to-the-minute rota and event lists

A clever wheeze with Q-Action cards is to use the 'Goto' card to point to a document on the web that you can easily update. This means that you can have sophisticated lists, tables, images, etc. and use Q-Action as the interface to them so that the QR code never changes, even if you change the document or replace it - for example with a new rota.

There are cloud services where you can put documents and make them public - such as Google Docs. You can also delegate and share the task of updating by assigning editing rights to specific individuals.

Here are some examples I baked earlier:

A simple rota (QR code posted on a wall or sent by email)

An event programme that is up-datable (QR code printed on the paper programme or ticket)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Getting Q-Action into Print

Getting a q-action qr-code into print is easy - <right-click> over the image and <copy image> then paste into your favorite word processor or image editing program then print.

But what if you want the image to be bigger? If you simply stretch the qr-code it will probably look horrible when printed. This is because the codes as they appear on the screen are only 150 x 150 pixels and the software has stretched the image using rules that wirk for photographs, but are not so good for graphics.

We did think of adding some buttons to allow you to download the image in some larger sizes before we realised that there is an easy way to scale the image to any size you need.

  • Paste the qr-code into gimp. (Our favorite free, open source image editor).
  • Select image > scale image.
  • Set interpolation to none. Interpolation sets the rules used to scale the image.
  • Set the dpi. 
    • For viewing on screen use 72 dpi. 
    • For ordinary colour printing use 150dpi.
    • For high resolution printing use 600 dpi.
    • If you are a professional printer you will probably smugly say you use 1200 dpi or higher.
  • Set the image to the size you want. Happily you can mix imperial and metric units here, but you will want to keep the width and height equal.
  • Click scale.
  • Save the image as a TIFF, PNG or other "non lossy" format otherwise it will look fuzzy.
  • Print and enjoy.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Decorating Q-Action Codes

Purists are quick to point out that the standard for QR codes specifies that they should be black and white with a border. The artistically inclined are equally quick to point out that this makes QR codes visually very boring and wouldn't it be nice if they were decorated in some way.

Fortunately many QR code readers are very tolerant of colour variations and the codes themselves incorporate a certain amount of tolerance to error in print quality. This means that it is possible to tweak a codes visually as long as you are sure that it is not going to be used on something that is mission critical.  So if your code is going to be used on a manned mission to Mars stick to the black and white version.

Using any image as a base the following method should give you a reasonable result:

  1. Load your image into the GIMP image editing program.
  2. Grab a copy of the QR-Code image by using right-click over the image on the view page of your q-action account.
  3. Back to Gimp and paste as a new layer.
  4. Scale the layer making sure interpolation is set to none. The code will get unhelpfully distorted if you use any other setting.
  5. Add a layer mask using image greyscale option.
  6. Adjust brightness and contrast until the result looks OK.
  7. Crop and save the image.
I reset this q-action code to point to the you-tube video of how it was made using these instructions.

And this is the video:

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

QR Luggage labels for round the world trip

Luggage labels are useful if (when) your bags go astray. I've several times had them lost by airlines and once wrongly collected from the carousel by someone else. They will usually forward them on to you, but it may involve some complex logistics. There is a joke that the world's most travelled person was beaten into second place by their luggage.

If you are on a long trip you are supposed to affix a label with your next destination address. Here's a modern day wrinkle using Q-Action.

Start a 'Business Card' or 'Blank page' Q-Action type and then make a really tough laminated QR code tag that you can fasten to your bag. It could also have your mobile phone number in plain text and some instructions to scan the code for lost luggage forwarding address.

If you are the super-organised type and know in advance where you are going to stay then you can simply put the list of dates and addresses on a 'blank' page type. If not, or if something unexpected happens to you then as you travel the world you simply update your page with the next forwarding address details: either on-line from your mobile, or from a cyber-cafe.

Have a good trip.