Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

Cracking the QR Code Question

Recruits take a Morse Code test at the RAF Aircrew Reception Centre at St John's Wood, London, 24 September 1942.

As well as having a bit of a bust up about ‘how user centred, this user centred project is’ in a meeting last week, we also had a bit of mental fisty cuffs about the use of QR codes.  Are the useful? Are they just a transient technology? Are they even a technology? How do they help visitor experience? Where do they lead the visitor once they have scanned it? And ultimately who actually scans QR codes? Is it just us? We havent really reached any conclusion on this, other than lets stick a giant QR code on IWM and see what people do. I like this idea. Whether or not it will actually happen is another thing.

So I thought I’d link to a few blog posts that have already dealt with the QR question:

This is really something that we will have to tackle with SocialInterp. QR codes might be everywhere, I even saw one on the side of a bus yesterday? Has anyone tried to scan a moving QR code? Trust me, It cant be done. Anyway… But they are not pervasive enough with ‘normal’ visitors for them to just want to scan a black and white box.  There needs to be context.  As Nina states;“QR codes without context are appealing to two audiences: museum geeks and technology geeks”That isn’t enough within a museum. A call to action, an explanation, some interpretation is really necessary for QR codes to provide any worthwhile further engagement.

  • The Moblists, Museum Next, and Collections Spotlight from the National Trust blogs provide some great case studies on museums which are using QR codes to enhance visitor experience
  • A few years ago the Powerhouse Museum explored QR codes in the museum and highlighted some of the problems and opportunities with extended object labels.
  • Alex Flowers explained about integrating QR codes into the galleries at the Museum of London for a secondary school programme.
  • Terence Eden has numerous posts about the use of QR codes in various different fields, including Museums.  Well worth a read. A little unflattering about a previous project I worked on, but valid points nevertheless.
  • Danny Birchall has a review of QRator in the Grant Museum as well as adding on Twitter “but it doesn’t express quite how much I dislike QR codes!” They really do seem to have a love ’em or hate ’em quality.
  • Hugh Wallace did a very interesting experiment with QR codes earlier in the year:  Our QR code experiment: getting mobile at #BeGoodBeSocial provides some really interesting points to note.  Firstly, most people don’t know or don’t care what a QR code does/is.  Again striking to Nina’s point about needing to provide context.  And also hopefully a good thing for us; that the links to social content fared best.  Personally I am also loving the idea of wearing a t-shirt with a QR codes on which provides more information about me. Scanable information radiator! Brilliant.
  • Claire Bower send me a link to her post on the BMJ blog about whether or not QR codes are a gimmick or actually professionally useful

I’ve put a call out on the Twitters for any more useful posts, and I’ll update this periodically with new ones.

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5 comments
  1. Terence Eden says: December 14, 20115:02 pm

    *cringe* sorry if I was rude about one of your projects!

    I think it’s a really important point – a QR code isn’t enough unless you tell people what it is and, crucially, how to use it.

    The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis are using QRpedia codes – they have some really engaging visitor information signs which tells people what they’ll get when they scan.
    The UK National Archives also has a stand – which includes some A5 handouts to tell people how to configure their phone for WiFi.

    It’s also worth training your staff. Either giving them practical demonstrations of what the codes are and how they work – or give them a smartphone so they can show visitors exactly what to do.

    • Claire says: December 16, 20118:33 am

      You weren’t rude! All valid points! honestly QR codes are like marmite. Totally agree about QR codes without context. Thanks for the pointers to other projects.

  2. Seb Chan says: December 15, 20113:21 pm

    Powerhouse actually did some more recent QR work and popped one on every exhibition label in a new show. The exhibition catalogue App (free) has a built in scanner which has seen usage go up greatly.

    Background – http://www.freshandnew.org/2011/07/06/making-love-lace-a-cross-device-exhibition-catalogue-the-return-of-the-qr/

    Some other results from the data (showing which get scanned etc) – http://www.freshandnew.org/2011/08/23/early-app-and-qr-code-scanning-data-from-love-lace-exhibition/

    • Claire says: December 16, 20118:31 am

      Thanks for the heads up on the love-lace exhibition Seb! I really like the overlay of the scans on the exhibition floor plan. I hope we can do that with ours during analysis. Did you have any idea why certain objects were not been scanned at all? positioning of object? QR code positin? visitor ‘unfriendly’ objects?

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