QR codes are making a comeback. Here’s how to use them.

QR codes can be scanned to view restaurant menus.

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Published on: October 28, 2022

QR codes have been around for years, but they’ve always received a ho-hum reception from the general public. In years past, you had to download a dedicated app for scanning QR codes, and those apps were often clunky and bloated with ads. Today, most camera apps will read QR codes for you, and all you need to do is open the camera app, point your phone at the code and click the link that appears.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes have seen a resurgence, as they’ve allowed business to go touch-free — allowing customers to access restaurant menus via their own phones, for example, instead of having to handle a printed copy.

How to use QR codes

The main point of a QR code is to direct users to a specific URL, such as your company’s website. Thus, it makes sense to use a QR code anywhere you’re sharing your website address in real life. For example: Let’s say you’re a baker and you have custom boxes for your cakes that are branded with your company’s logo and website address. A simple QR code next to the website makes it even easier for customers to reach you online. This is especially helpful for long or complicated URLs.

In addition to your company’s website, you also might use QR codes for specific promotions, such as sharing an email sign-up page or a landing page for a specific contest.

This gum container features a QR code that can be scanned to access nutrition information.

Some companies even place QR codes on products to share nutrition information or other important data — though if you do that, you want to be certain that the QR code doesn’t expire. A QR code on a nutrition label, for example, can direct customers to a wealth of health information about that specific product.

Bank of America and other large financial institutions also have been using QR codes to help customers log in — they just scan a QR code on the website and then use biometric data via their cell phones to access their accounts without having to type in a password.

Other ideas for QR codes:

  • Restaurants: Menus can include a link to digital content for improved accessibility, extra wine tasting notes or even digital review sites. Plus, though people do love to hate them, digital menus are much easier (and less expensive) to update when needed.
  • Real estate: Printed flyers and yard signs can contain codes that send interested buyers straight to the specific property listing.
  • Advertising: For ads that are easy to access physically (newspaper print ads, flyers posted in coffee shops, etc.), a QR code can be an easy way for people to access more information or sign up.
  • Checking in: Have an event coming up? Consider sending invites a QR code specific to them, and then scanning that code at the door. It’s an easy way to confirm a person’s presence on the guest list and make them as attended.

How not to use QR codes

QR codes have been given a bad name by people who post them in silly and dangerous places, like on the back of a bus. (You certainly don’t want to be encouraging people to try snapping the code while driving.)

While filling up at the gas station the other day, I saw an employment ad playing on the little TV at the pump that included a QR code to help people apply for work. Given that safety protocols discourage the use of phones at the pump, the placement seemed a tad dangerous.

Where can I get a QR code?

Generating a QR code through Adobe’s online service.

Adobe has a clean, simple and free solution. You can choose between two styles of codes and in various basic colors. You even get three file types (PNG, JPG and SVG) from which to choose. Downloading your QR code requires logging in with a free Adobe account. Bonus: If you’re a Creative Suite user, you can create QR codes in InDesign. Just go to Object > Generate QR Code.

Flowcode is another popular free option. You can choose among several dot shapes, including stars and hearts, and the codes come with premade themes, incorporating elements like acorns and maple leaves for fall-themed promotions.

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