QR codes are seen in various locations these days; Among the various functions they already have are contact details, URL links to video clips or mobile sites, SMS messages, event details, map coordinates, phone numbers and more.
QR codes have their own language. It is a visual language (not audible one) that digital devices can understand and read and regular humans cannot. Humans can at most recognize them. They can be easily identified by their three finder patterns, marked in red in the illustration.
If they are not present it is not a QR code! It may be a Data Matrix, a Microsoft Tag, an Aztec code, Pdf417 or any one of other type of codes. It is only the presence of all three of them that makes it a QR code.
The amazing thing I find about it is that here we are in a situation where we are completely illiterates. By this I mean that there is probably not even one person in the entire planet that is able to look at a QR code and read it!
No wonder – unlike the usual 1D code we see in supermarkets, where every combination of 7 bars translates to a digit, reading QR codes is a very complicated art. After all it contains mathematic wisdom not known to the human race before 1960 – it has the ability to self repair itself if corrupted! Its appearance consists of two different layers. To read it you will need the ability to solve quite complex equations, remember a long list of tables of white and black patterns and more.
All that ends with the fact that you find yourself staring at a QR code and it is staring back to you, without any possibility from your side to understand what it means, unless you have your phone equipped with a camera and special software that will allow you to read the code. Moreover you do not even have a clue as to what will happen after reading it. Is it a URL that will take you to some website? Is it a video link that will consume some portion of your data package? Is it a simple text or contact details ?
Usually distributors of these codes are advised to add some text beneath, telling people what to expect from this barcode. On the other hand when thinking of it, the QR code itself is not considered a masterpiece of human creation in vein . We can write on it, can’t we? After all it is built to be robust and repair itself. What about a small icon telling us humans – “I am a video link” or “I am a SMS message”. We can just hint what the code type is and of course save the need and area for text beneath.
Here are some examples I had in mind
The U is for a URL (mobile website), the V is for a video, the $ is for a coupon and the @ is for an e-mail address. There could be more of course, perhaps C for a contact details and N for phone numbers.
It is important to say that this letter added in the QR code’s finder pattern, has nothing to do with its ability to repair itself. This is a noise that all readers know to overcome. In fact I could not find even one reasonable reader that failed to read any of these codes. So here is an idea, that will allow us an improvement by making a very small adjustment.
In my next posts I would like to go deeper into the QR codes structure and their language, with some helpful tips on how to squeeze their potential to the maximum and to make them more human friendly.