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QR Codes: History, Use, and Misuse

As technology continues to evolve and shape the way we live and work, QR codes have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. QR codes, or Quick Response codes, were first invented in 1994 by Japanese company Denso Wave for the automotive industry as a way to easily track the production and delivery of automobile parts. 

In 1997, QR codes began to be used in marketing and advertising, as companies saw the potential for these codes to provide customers with quick access to product information and special offers. However, it wasn’t until the advent of smartphones with built-in cameras that QR codes began to gain some popularity. 

By the early 2000s, QR codes were being used in a variety of different industries, from retail to healthcare. However, consumer adoption continued to lag for nearly two decades until the COVID pandemic made them a savior for many businesses. 

What are QR Codes?

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes capable of storing large amounts of information in a small space. The basic design consists of black squares arranged on a white background. Essentially, QR codes are used in real world settings to access online information. For example, QR codes are an ideal way to promote a long URL without requiring manual typing. 

QR codes are widely used in a variety of different contexts, from marketing and advertising to finance and transportation. One of the key reasons for their popularity is their versatility. QR codes can be used to store a variety of different types of information, including website URLs, contact information, and more. 

The ease of use of QR codes is another factor that has contributed to their popularity. Unlike traditional barcodes, QR codes can be scanned quickly and easily using a smartphone or tablet, making it simple for consumers to access information and services.

The retail industry was an early adopter of QR codes, with many stores using them as a way to make the shopping experience more convenient for customers, such as accessing detailed product information or reviews.

QR codes have also widely been used in the healthcare and education industries as a quick way to access information. For example, by scanning a QR code, patients can access their medical records, appointment schedules, and prescription information. This not only improves the patient experience, but also helps to reduce the risk of errors and mistakes.

COVID Rebirth

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for the resurgence in popularity of QR codes. With the world grappling with a global health crisis, the need for contactless transactions and communication was never higher. QR codes played a critical role in this shift towards a more digitized and touch-free way of life.

In the early days of the pandemic, many businesses were forced to close their doors, and consumers were reluctant to venture out for fear of exposure to the virus. This presented a unique challenge for businesses, who were forced to find new ways to reach their customers and sell their products. 

In the retail sector, QR codes were used to create virtual storefronts where customers could access a product catalog, place an order, and make a payment, all without the need for physical interaction. In the hospitality sector, QR codes were used to provide menus and ordering options at restaurants and cafes, reducing the need for physical menu cards, which can easily become contaminated.

The widespread use of QR codes has also led to an increase in the development of QR code-based applications and software. These applications are designed to make the use of QR codes more accessible, efficient, and user-friendly for businesses and consumers. From tracking inventory and sales to managing customer data, QR code-based applications have become an indispensable tool for businesses in various industries.

More recently, TV ads are incorporating QR codes to lead viewers to supplemental information, interactive videos, and online ordering. According to a survey conducted by Google, nearly 70% of TV viewers in the United States use their smartphones while watching TV, and 80% look up information related to TV content or products and services being advertised. QR codes  are making that leap from screen to screen even faster.

QR Codes are no longer limited to black and white squares. Services, such as Flowcode, allow you to choose a shape, add your logo, and customize the color, border, and pattern of your code.

QR Codes are no longer limited to black and white squares. Services, such as Flowcode, allow you to choose a shape, add your logo, and customize the color, border, and pattern of your code.

Real World Use

According to a survey conducted by Scanbuy in 2021, the use of QR codes has seen a significant increase in recent years, with over 70% of consumers reporting having used a QR code in the past six months. The study also found that the adoption of QR codes was highest among younger consumers, with more than 80% of consumers aged 18-24 reporting having used a QR code. 

In addition to the growth in consumer adoption, the use of QR codes by businesses has also increased. According to a survey of small and medium-sized businesses, over 60% of businesses reported having implemented QR codes in some form, with many reporting increased efficiency and customer engagement as a result.

According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, 70% of retailers said they plan to use QR codes in some capacity in the near future. This trend is expected to continue, with QR codes being used to offer a more interactive and personalized shopping experience.

The use of QR codes in the supply chain management industry has increased by 25% in the past two years.

Recently, QR code-based payment systems have faced increased competition from newer and more user-friendly options such as tap-to-pay and mobile wallets like Apple Wallet. These technologies eliminate the need for users to scan a QR code or enter a pin, making transactions faster and more convenient.

The Dark Side of QR Codes

Misuse of QR codes is a growing concern as they become more widespread in our daily lives. In some cases, QR codes are used in online ads or on social media to mislead users into downloading malicious software or visiting fake websites. This can lead to personal information theft and other forms of cybercrime. For this reason, it’s crucial to be cautious when scanning QR codes, especially those from unknown sources.

One way to reduce the risk of falling victim to QR code misuse is to only scan codes from trusted sources and to verify the website or information that the code leads to. Additionally, keeping your device and software up-to-date with the latest security patches can help prevent any potential security breaches.

It’s important for businesses to understand the potential risks associated with QR codes and to educate their employees and customers about how to use QR codes safely. QR codes have the potential to greatly enhance the customer experience and streamline business processes, but it’s essential to use them responsibly.

Print is Back

Where QR codes have the most impact is outside of the digital world, in other words, in printed materials. Whether it’s direct mail, magazine ads, or billboards, a QR code is a quick way to link the real world to the digital one. For example, codes can be configured with your contact information. When placed on a business card, your details will automatically be added to the user’s address book.

QR codes have come a long way from the traditional black and white boxes. Today, QR codes can be customized by adding color, incorporating a logo, and choosing a alternate shape, such  as a circle or triangle.

There are numerous online services available for creating custom QR codes, such as QR Code Generator, QRStuff, Flowcode, and QR Code Monkey. A well-designed QR code can serve as a form of brand promotion, making your company more memorable and recognizable to customers.

How Not to Use QR Codes

With any popular technology, there is always a portion of users who don’t understand how best to use it. As businesses have migrated away from print advertising, relying instead on social and email marketing, some are jumping on the QR code bandwagon and including codes within their digital campaigns. 

The potential drawback is that 80% of online marketing and email is viewed on a mobile device. QR codes in digital advertisements or social media posts can be ineffective because they can’t be scanned when the user is already using their smartphone.

If another method of accessing the QR code information is not included in the message, businesses could be missing out on potential leads and customers. 

The best practice is to assume your message is being used on a mobile device and include the full URL or link to the information contained in the QR code.

It’s also important to be mindful of the size of your code. The minimum recommended size is .75″ x .75″ for square codes and .8″ for other shapes.

Here to Stay

QR codes have come a long way since their inception and are a ubiquitous part of our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to a new era of touch-free transactions and communication, and QR codes have emerged as one of the key technologies driving this change. With the world increasingly focused on health and safety, expect to see QR codes playing a significant role in the future. 

However, the misuse of QR codes in digital advertisements and social media can lead to ineffective and inconvenient user experiences or worse compromise user data. Regardless of the downsides, QR codes will remain a part of business and commerce, providing a link from the real world to the digital one.

Jillian Harman is owner of Hyperion Design and Publishing, a full-service creative studio, which also publishes this magazine. Find out how you can submit your own articles and let readers know more about your business and expertise. Contact