In 2008 we had a discussion about using QR codes and the consensus was that they were not quite ready for visitors yet. Seb Chan looked at the potential of QR codes in this 2009 blog post, with some useful practical instructions about how to use them. Two years on with the explosion in mobile uptake, I see that QR codes seem to have come back in to fashion in museum interpretation. I have been collecting a range of readings about QR codes which I thought I’d share.

Mashable identifies the Five Mistakes to Avoid in Your QR Code Marketing Campaign – “not testing the code; getting too fancy with text; serving up non-mobile pages; putting QR codes where there's no data signal; and Not offering enough value”. The author reminds us that “QR codes by themselves are fundamentally neither good nor bad, they’re just a means to an end: an offline-to-online delivery mechanism”.

Scan a QR code screen on the Whale Trail game
Scan a QR code screen on the Whale Trail game Image: N/A
© Australian Museum

Nina Simon writes about her experiments with QR codes, reminding us that the purpose if using the codes must be clear – does it add value to the visitor experience or does it lead to more frustrations? Seems to me that we should not become complacent about labeling, saying “we can just add that to the QR Code!” There are other ways for visitors to access associated rich media in an exhibition (especially now in use of iPads but that’s a post for another day).

Kathleen Tinworth, in her wonderful blog, posted Destination QR which gives a nice couple of practical examples of QR Code use. I particularly liked the idea of outdoor interpretation making better use of QR Codes. At the re-launching of the Grant Museum of Zoology they are using QR codes and iPads in their interpretive labeling and it looks pretty interesting.

As identified in several of these posts, the area that really needs attention I think is the way the codes are introduced to visitors so they are able to access them. A great example is the Powerhouse Museum’s Lovelace exhibition, and the app was pretty good too. Seb has blogged about their experiences. The images on the right are taken from the exhibition entry and offer a good template I believe. Be keen to see how they are received by visitors.

To finish, as part of a Smart Services CRC Research project, Measuring the Value of Mobile Applications, we conducted a second study asking how visitors to the Australian Museum use and value their apps. We asked visitors to pick the statement that best explained them in relation to QR Codes. Of the 100 sampled so far, we found that:

  • 57% did not know what a QR Code is
  • 25% know about QR Codes but have not used one
  • 15% scanned a QR Code to their phone and used it
  • 1% scanned a QR Code to their phone but was unable to use it

We will be doing more surveying and experimenting in the near future so watch this space...