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QR Codes in Truly Strange Places

QR Codes in Truly Strange Places
WTFQRCODE/User submission

Once upon a time, QR codes were but an auto industry invention, used to track vehicles during assembly. That was 1994. Now, QR codes are everywhere, offering us countless opportunities to take out our phone and scan an ad for more information. As marketers and subversive urban artists come up with new ways to present these codes, new opportunities for satire arise too.

That's where WTF QR CODES comes in. Creators Brad Frost and Craig Villamor highlight examples of absurd QR codes around the world. We caught up with Frost via email about the site and how it came about. Here's what he had to say:

How did you come up with the idea for the WTF QR CODES

I'm surrounded by QR codes living in New York - the subway cars, subway platforms, bus stops, billboards, digital signs are are riddled with them. I got interested in QR codes because I'm a mobile web designer, and most of these codes open URLs, so I wanted to see if the codes lead to good mobile web experiences. More often than not I'm disappointed with the supposed pot of gold at the end of arduous and clumsy rainbow. My cohort Craig has a great eye for good and bad user experiences, so we got together to start the blog.

 

Image courtesy WTF QR CODES.

What kind of feedback have you been receiving from readers? Are you surprised by any user submissions so far? 

Feedback has been pretty great so far. I've also enjoyed comment threads that degrade into "NUH UH! NFC [near field communication] is better! Nuh uh! QR codes are better!" flamewars. 

The submissions have been fantastic. I was really hoping we'd get good submissions once we'd launched because I only had a handful of good ones. The plane submission surprised me the most and the moving targets & highway billboards are pretty hilarious/disturbing as well.

 

Image courtesy WTF QR CODES.

What are the pros and cons of QR codes existing in urban environments?

I like practical codes that provide you more information about your current context. Whether it's a code at a bus station that leads to the most current schedule, or one that provides more information about an art installation, it enhances your experience with the physical world. 

However, QR codes add to the already-annoying visual pollution that anyone living in an urban environment has to endure. They're inherently ugly as sin, and even though marketers try to gussy them up, they still look terrible. The QR experience also take you out of your physical environment. But I think the biggest offense of all is when the codes take you to garbage content. That happens way more than we'd like, but that's the reality. Visual Pollution + Crappy Content = Double Awful.

Are there advertisement methods you see as being productive in an urban environment?

I think any ad method can be productive. The content just needs to be worthwhile and make sense for the context. Too often those criteria aren't met and as a result you see a bunch of visual litter.

Image courtesy WTF QR CODES.

What’s the worst QR code you’ve ever seen in public? 

I'd probably say the worst example of a QR code I've seen personally is the bed bugs subway ad. I was on a crowded train and the ad was right above the doors. The doors opened and this guy tried to scan the code while he was stepping out. Of course it wasn't focusing and he was clogging up the doorway for everybody. I was embarrassed for him. Not only was he pissing off the people he was preventing from getting off the train, he was broadcasting to the entire car that he has a bedbug problem. And of course, he was underground so it's not like the code would work anyways. Triple whammy.

We figured we'd add our own findings with a slideshow of some useful and useless QR codes around the world:

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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