Art directors and graphic designers hate QR codes.
They have good reason to.
For one thing, QR codes are ugly – not to the scanners they were designed for, but certainly to the human eye.
For another, they're bigger than anything so ugly has any right to be.
According to research that Dr. Kevin Berisso, director of Ohio University's Automatic Information and Data Capture lab, is conducting, the farther away you want one to be scanned from, the bigger it has to be.
They have to be square in shape.
You have to make them solid black and white, even in a color ad or brochure, to be sure all scanners will read them. You can't even use rich (i.e., four-color) black, for fear that registration problems will make them unreadable.
If that weren't enough, you have to surround them with white space. Lots of white space.
But now, a two-year-old Tel Aviv startup has come up with a kind of QR code that's not exactly beautiful, but is certainly less ugly and intrusive.
"Fitting the code to the image"
In an exclusive telephone interview today, Nevo Alva, CEO of Visualead, said that what he calls the Visual QR codes his company has developed "fit the QR to the image" instead of making designers fit the overall image to the QR code.
They did this, CTO Itamar Friedman explained, by looking for flexibilities where others haven't. While the official standard for generating QR codes is very strict and complete, the algorithms for scanning them have lots more wiggle room.
To design codes that would be readable on just about any phone, the company researched tolerance ranges for lots of different smartphones and scanning apps – and in those tolerances, Friedman says, were opportunities.
"Out of the corner"
One such opportunity was to the ability to "fade" the code to only 30 percent of full intensity. This lets designers superimpose it anywhere on the page, preferably in an area of contrasting color, instead of having to lock it into the middle of a larger white square. As a result, their visual instrincts won't be screaming at them to shove it out of the way, all the way down to a corner at the bottom of the ad.
Or, as Alva more simply put it, they can let the code "out of the corner. The key here is that you can find the right area of light or dark space for contrast."
And wherever outside the corner it ends up, it tends to blend more – not invisibly, but more – into the look of the ad, because most of what's behind it shows through.
That should make art directors happy.
In order for the visual QR code to be less intrusive, though, it has to be a bit bigger.
Because the symbol is knocked back by 70 percent, its X dimension – the length of one side of each of its 2,500 data squares measured in thousandths of an inch – needs to be 30 percent bigger than a conventional QR code scannable at the same distance.
But with a choice of colors and backgrounds and no big white border, that's a trade-off many designers would happily make.
That should also make account executives happy, because having a bigger QR code is almost as much an article of faith to them as having a bigger logo.
The shapes of things to come?
Having done away with the white, square border, Visualead is working to do away with the square itself.
They've already developed a QR code where all the corners are rounded.
They also have a diamond-shaped QR code, which could become a future cliche in retail jewelry advertising.
And, Alva tells us, more shapes are in the pipeline.
Using their QR codes is effective, he says, explaining that they've tested them on all different types of scanners. It's also free (or, if you don't want to stop at a transition page every time, you can pay them $14 to bypass it).
If more and more art directors do, then while advertisers will probably be using more and more QR codes in the future, there's a good chance you'll be seeing less and less of them.