The Five Most Important Factors in QR Code Quality

QR Code quality is paramount as it becomes an important marketing tool in every conceivable market and industry. As we have observed in the retail space, barcode performance at checkout is a major part of the customer experience—bad UPC barcodes on the product threaten customer loyalty. This truism extends to QR Code; 2013 Black Friday stats show increased use of QR Code as a price comparison tool for consumers.   If it doesn’t help customers shop, the fallout is significant. What could go wrong? Plenty. Here are the five most important problems to avoid.Qr-1

1. Data Correctness

The Uniform Resource Locator or URL address for a website must be correct in data sequence and structure, in compliance with global standards maintained by the W3 organization.  That the web address must be error free is obvious but bears a special mention because it is so basic—and so often a problem.

2. Link Sustainability

The best, ergo the most likely to scan successfully QR Code is one that does not contain volumes of information. This is a balancing act–more about this in step 3. Lots of users will use a URL shortener service like Bitly, Google, and others to compress a long URL. This is good practice because it makes the QR Code smaller and makes it possible to track the usage of the QR Code. But there is a potential downside: the URL compression services don’t guarantee the life expectancy of the compressed URL—in fact they change their compression algorithms and kill earlier shortened URL’s all the time. If you assume the compressed URL in your QR Code will last for years, think again.

3. QR Code SizeQr-code-ver-40

The minimum module size for a QR Code to be readable by most smart phones from about 10” is 500 microns (about 20mil). QR Codes come in several versions, defined by module counts X and Y: 21×21, 25×25, 29×29, etc. : the more data, the more modules.  But the QR Code must not expand to a footprint that’s larger than the retail package or label can accommodate–and space is always tight. Consequently, as the data content increases, the module size must sometimes decrease to fit the package. If the module must be smaller than the optimal 500 micron size, scanning success is jeopardized on lower resolution smart phones.  This is the balancing act between URL length and symbol size.

4. The Landing Page

An altogether too frequent mistake is failing to build a landing page that is optimized for viewing on a mobile device. We have scanned countless QR Codes that send us to a webpage built for desktop computers. We end up scrolling up and down and back and forth just to view it all—for about 5 seconds before we leave and never come back.

5. Customized QR Codesvsc-qr

Customizing the QR Code is almost always done by relying on the error correction to compensate for the design “damage”. This seems beyond stupid to me since most of the QR Code designers I know don’t own a verifier and therefore don’t actually test their wonderful designs to see if they actually work. A few claim to “test” their symbols with their iPhone and if it works, assume it will also work on your Android or Blackberry—which it might or might not. My opinion? Don’t mess with the QR Code design. Make it obvious and worthwhile for somebody to scan the QR Code and the lack of a clever design won’t slow them down at all—but if the clever design kills the QR Code, where’s the victory in that?

The author thanks Mr. Bruno Rolland of Axicon in Paris, France, for his kind assistance in writing this article.

John Nachtrieb

About John Nachtrieb

Mr. Nachtrieb has 30+ years of hands-on experience in barcode technology. His team imaged the film master for the first commercially scanned barcode in North America (1974). His specialty is barcode quality. He created and hosts a highly customized barcode quality seminar which has been presented to 100's of companies, reaching thousands of quality-concerned people, helping them to avoid barcode problems and manage barcode-related risk.


4 Responses to The Five Most Important Factors in QR Code Quality

  1. Ted Schultze December 9, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Hello John:

    Your forgot to add the importance of bar (module) width adjustment. Its as important with 2d symbols as it is with linear. No b.w.a. and the camera may have to start using error correction which slows the decoding process.

  2. PB December 9, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Great comprehensive article about QR code. Most of these stories are written for novices, this one is for grown-ups. Well done, John.

  3. Robert W Bell December 10, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    John, thank you for making it short, very informative and accurate. We have hundreds of partners using our solution and you can never have to much information to offer the beginners so it is done right from the beginning.

  4. Veronica December 18, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    Hi John, just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your article – it has a lot of helpful info in it. Will definitely share with our QR code label customers!

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