The rise and rise of the QR code

Have you noticed? QR codes currently seem to be everywhere. Changing your bank, you might be asked to scan a QR code for information about your new account. Taking part in an online event, you might be provided with a QR code to give feedback. Watching a tv show you can vote using a QR code. Opening a box of cereal or a bottle of shampoo, you may find a QR code on the side. The uses for QR codes it would seem are endless and in late 2022, having not paid a whole lot of attention to them, I was suddenly finding them all over the place, so I set out to learn more.

Image by Adobe Stock.

History of QR codes

QR codes were originally used to track vehicles and parts as they moved through the manufacturing process. They later gained popularity with the invention of smartphones and had a resurgence during the Covid 19 pandemic, to enable track and trace and as a contactless way to share information.

Invented in 1994, QR codes were invented by Masahiro Hara, chief engineer at Denso Wave, a Japanese company and subsidiary of Toyota. They are now used around the world. In China, most financial transactions are now contactless via QR code scanning, whether it be paying for meals, clothing or groceries, while beggars in China carry QR codes in their begging bowls to accept donations. QR codes can be found on giant billboards in Japan and painted on walls in Cape Town. In some countries, they can be used to rent a public e-scooter or e-bike or to travel by train. And now the UK is catching on too.

QR code being created on Main Street, Sea Point, Cape Town, South Africa.
Image by Dicklyon on Wikipedia.

What is a QR code?

Short for Quick Response, QR codes are square shaped pieces of pixelated code that store information. Working in a similar way to bar codes, they can be read top to bottom or right to left and store around 7,000 digits or 4,000 characters, including punctuation and special characters. The design of a QR code varies depending on the information it contains and this information changes the arrangement of the modules in the codes design. The structure of a QR code means that even with 30% damage to the code, it will still be readable by a scanner and they can be personalised too, for example the QR code shown in the magazine advertisement below.

Advertisement for Ecover featuring a QR code.

Types of QR code

There are two types of QR codes.

  • Static QR codes
    These are useful for creating a large number of QR codes, say for a Wi-Fi password, however, once created, they cannot be modified and may not provide information on how many times the code has been scanned.
  • Dynamic QR codes
    These allow the creator to change and edit the code as many times as necessary, so are useful say if you need to change the colours to match packaging. Unlike dynamic QR codes, they also have the ability to track and measure statistics. 
Male and female walking past a wall of QR codes.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.

What can you do with a QR code? 

When scanned with a smartphone, a QR Code will direct you to further information. The codes have a huge range of uses including directing users to a web page, menu, payment screen, CV or LinkedIn profile, vouchers, an app or flight boarding information, they can even be found on headstones. They can also be used to send and receive payments, authenticate login details and can be used on business cards, brochures and product information tags.

Photo by the blowup on Unsplash.

A word of warning

Until you open a QR code you cannot tell what file or web page a code will open and while QR codes cannot be hacked, hackers can generate codes that will send you to a fake website where your personal data can be stolen and your location tracked. This does not mean you should never scan a QR code but you should be cautious.

  • Email: If you get an unsolicited email asking you to scan a QR code, don’t do it — treat these the same way you would any other unsolicited mail
  • Public spaces: QR codes found on say posters or restaurant tables can be easily tampered with, by putting a sticker with a different QR code over the original code, so be on your guard for this
  • A sticker or flyer: Handed a sticker of flyer that looks interesting but not sure of the source, take a photo and look it up online rather than scanning the QR code
  • QR code app: Don’t install an app you get by scanning a QR code — if you are interested in an app, go to you official app store and download it there
Advertisement for the National Lottery featuring a QR code.

How to scan a QR code

Most modern smartphones today are equipped with a QR code reader, so to scan a QR code, it is simply a case of opening your camera phone and lining it up so that all four corners of the QR code appear within the square on the lens — your phone should automatically take a photo and a visible link to the code’s data should appear on the screen. Alternatively you can download a QR code reader app to your phone and use that instead.

Advertisement for the Big Garden Birdwatch featuring a QR code..

How to create a QR code

If you need to generate a QR code for your organisation this is easy to do using free online programmes also. Search for QR code generators online and you will discover many. I recently had a go at creating my own QR code and used QR Code Monkey which was free and offered to ability to change colours, add a logo and edit the QR code design. You can see the result and scan the code below.


Further information

© Humblebee Secretarial and Administration Support. All Rights Reserved.

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