I Hate QR Codes

Generally speaking, I like when my life is made easier. That's why I'm often opposed to QR codes.

My job requires me to be up to speed with every new update and feature of the most personally invasive technologies the world has ever seen. I spend my business life zeroing in on and leveraging the intersection of human nature and user data to drive desired results for my clients.

When you’re “in it” to the extent I am in your work life, it’s only natural to want to push back against technological “advancements” in your personal life. Add to that my natural affinity for all things vintage, analog and tactile, and my personal life is profoundly luddite compared to my professional life.  

  • I don’t own an Apple Watch.
    I rotate between a fully mechanical diver’s watch and a Casio calculator watch. 
  • I don’t use BlueTooth headphones.
    I have a box of wired ⅛” headphones and a handful of adapters in case I need to make them work with my iPhone (that I’ve begrudgingly carried since BlackBerry stopped being a thing). 
  • I don’t have plans to save the environment by driving an EV.
    My ‘91 Corvette and my truck are both painted green, and that’ll have to do. 
  • I don’t use Alexa or Siri or any other voice-activated services. 
  • I don’t use social media for personal purposes.
    I do have an Instagram account, but that’s because IG won’t allow me to delete my account without providing a password I’ve long since forgotten. UPDATE: I now have a Twitter account

Until the 2020 shutdowns, I had done a pretty good job of avoiding modern conveniences away from work, but the health and safety protocols of many businesses forced me to finally confront a technology I had previously refused to be a part of: the QR code.

My Introduction To QR Codes

Early into the pandemic, I ordered an item for pickup at Bass Pro Shops. When I showed up to claim my purchase, I was told that I had to sign in by scanning the QR code at customer service. Suddenly, I was 105 years old.

I felt confusion, which I then converted to anger as I barked out “I DUNNO HOWDA DO THAT!” Then, a real-life geriatric pulled me aside and explained the process to me as I stood there, still scowling. 

I hated it. I hated being told to use it, I hated having an old man explain something I otherwise had no idea how to do, and I hated the process of using my phone’s camera to connect with my browser.

Pinpointing The Pain Points

Beyond hating being forced to adapt to the future (not that QR codes are particularly new), I didn’t think it was a convenient user experience, period. I had to open my camera app, hover over the code, click to open the code, enter my phone’s passcode, and wait for the page to load.

If we’re supposedly living in the future, WHY AM I GOING THROUGH ALL THESE STEPS? I thought the benefit of QR codes was to make internet travel fast and easy – what the hell are all these steps about?

You’re passing a billboard at 70 miles per hour and see a QR code.

Once you’re forced to use a QR code against your will, you start noticing them everywhere. I truly can’t understand how they’ve become so widely used when the user experience is so poor. And what about those chumps that put QR codes on billboards? How on earth does that work? 

You’re passing a billboard at 70 miles per hour and see a QR code. Even if you’re determined to use that code instead of just Googling the brand you see on the billboard, is it even possible?

Can you whip out your phone, open your app, steady the viewfinder over the code and allow your browser to open the page without committing vehicular manslaughter?

Are you supposed to pull over on the highway and scan from the shoulder? Is anyone tracking the usage of these high-stakes QR codes? This is nonsense at best, and downright deadly at worst.

The Right Tool for the Job

Here’s my solution: don’t default. Choose the right tool for the job and the audience. 

In a situation like a highway billboard, scrap the QR codes altogether and just get better at establishing clear URL naming conventions and using redirecting vanity domains. Sure, it might require a little more creativity, but what’s ultimately easier for the user: scanning a QR code from the passing lane, or committing a straight-forward URL (like site.com/billboard) to memory?

I’m not asking you to change the fact I was forcibly coerced into using technology – that ship has sailed, along with my dignity. What I am asking is that you match solutions to the problem.

If I’m going to be forced to step out of my comfort zone, it needs to be worth it. And right now, the QR code isn’t up to snuff. Are you up to the challenge? Great! If not, I suggest we change QR’s meaning from “quick response” to “quick rage.”

Accentuate the Positive

I’m generally not a fan of QR codes, but in an effort to bring a fair and balanced perspective, I surveyed my Love and Science colleagues on the matter. Here are some of the positives they threw in my face, and I quote:

  • QR codes are SO HELPFUL when I’m trying to get into a streaming app on someone else’s TV or a new device.
  • QR codes have very quickly helped me find the right person to Venmo when I really don’t want to type even a short and sweet URL in. There are always millions of people with the same name on those platforms and searching for or typing in the right person blows. 
  • QR codes can take you straight to downloading an app. While technically you can do that with a vanity URL too, this feels like sidestepping a browser and will inevitably get you in quicker. 
  • My process for QR codes is opening my camera from my lock screen and zapping it. It feels like one step when you do it like that. Unless of course the whole thing is fumbled. Like at a restaurant where you have no clue what you’ve been dropped on but it’s definitely not a full list of available items. But that’s more an issue of the suckiness of your destination.

So there you have it – there are some use cases where QR codes do an okay job. But only when they’re the right tool for the job. I still say there’s work to be done to clean up the user experience – like actually thinking about the use case and user. 

Finally, I’ll leave you with the best current use case I’ve seen for QR codes, brought to my attention by Aimee, founder of Love and Science. It’s a company that uses QR codes on gravestones so that you can expand your epitaph.

This got me thinking: you could use the QR code to digitally “haunt” your (grave)site’s visitors via remarketing and ghoulish banner ads/videos you made of yourself before passing into the great unknown. Just a thought.

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