Have you ever seen what you thought was a bar code but didn’t quite look like a traditional bar code? You may have been looking at a QR code.

QR codes haven’t made many appearances in the US yet but they are gaining momentum. A fellow Clockworker spotted one on a movie poster in Minneapolis this past summer. QR codes are widely popular in Japan and Europe, and are used in a variety of ways from advertising to restaurant menus.

The Basics

QR (Quick Response) Codes are two dimensional bar codes that were created in Japan by Denso Wave corp. QR codes hold data that can be quickly read and decoded by QR code reading applications.

QR codes can contain:

  • Numeric data – numbers with a max of 7,089 characters
  • Alphanumeric data – Alphabetical letters with a max of 4,296 characters
    source – Wikipedia

Generating a QR Code

There are several sites that generate QR codes. My favorite is Kaywa; the QR code you see above was generated there. It’s simple and easy to use and gives you a couple different options like; url, plain text, sms and a phone number. Mobile-Barcodes.com is another great source for QR codes.

QR Codes in Action

Once created, QR codes can be printed on a piece of paper, a sign or projected on to a screen. QR code readers installed on mobile devices use the camera feature to capture the data contained within a QR code. If the data is a URL, the reader will take you immediately to the URL through your mobile device’s browser.

Mobile devices in places like Japan and South Korea come with QR code readers installed. By contrast, in the US most mobile devices do not come with QR code readers installed on the device but third party applications have filled that void. Mobile-Barcodes.com has a great list of QR code apps. I use Bee Tag for with my Black Berry Storm and have found it to be great for QR codes printed out on paper but it takes a couple times taking the photo to get QR codes on screen.


Brands are using QR codes in a variety of ways. Surprisingly they are using QR codes for both internal and external purposes.

Human Resources

Companies are adopting QR codes to help out their HR departments. QR codes printed on employee documents can hold URLs to help the HR person access that employee’s records faster. It can also hold the name, address and telephone number of each individual employee. It’s a great way to access info fast, especially if you are a large corporation with multiple people sharing the same name.


Northwest Airlines now gives you the option to either print out your boarding pass or receive an email on your mobile device. That email contains a QR code; as you are checking in at the airport you hold that code above the scanner, the scanner will read it and you are ready to wait in the long security line. One less piece of paper to remember to bring along.


For the release of the movie “Notorious,” 20th Century Fox used QR Codes on movie posters. This allowed moviegoers to take a picture, and direct their mobile device to a site where they could purchase tickets. This is an excellent application of QR codes; in this case, the only problem with this campaign was the movie itself.

Consumer Goods

Adidas also got into the act of using QR Codes with a campaign to get consumers to vote on their favorite color Adidas shoe. Adidas put posters in their brand stores that had a variety of Branded QR Codes all in different colors and consumers could take a photo of their favorite color and be taken to a mobile site where they would submit their vote. This was a great way to engage the consumers on a personal level all while using the the QR code to push their brand.

The US is still has a long way to go in terms of education and implementation of QR codes but don’t be surprised if you see QR codes popping up in everyday situations. People are looking for ways to make their life easier with their mobile device and QR codes are going to be key to this growth.