QR Codes: a Quality Resource or Questionably Redundant?

This page is part of Extension Quick Bytes, online technology enrichment for Extension employees. Learn more about this series here!

Did you see what I did there? Q and R words in the title! Can you stand it!


QR codes are these little things: 

Looks familiar, right? They are all over the place! The QR stands for "Quick Response" codes and are really just a square bar code. People scan them with their smartphone and it takes them to a web address. 

In this Quick Byte, we'll look at: 

  • Good uses for QR codes
  • How to scan and use one
  • How to make one
  • How to see user stats


Why would you want to use a QR code? Usually, people use a QR code where printing a URL is awkward--like on a teeny box of raisins or in a product ad. But that is only half the reason to use a QR code. You also have to consider if it will be convenient for a user. When they see your QR code, are they holding their mobile device?

If you have room for a shortened URL and your users are not in an environment where they are constrained to their mobile device, then you probably shouldn't be using a QR code. 

Good example: QR codes at bus stops! See where the bus is on the route! Awesome!!!

Just be aware to not put the QR codes on ten foot poles. They are very hard to scan up there.

Good example: QR code on classrooms! Scan for room calendar! Awesome!

Good example: QR code on a sidewalk sign. Scan to 'like' on Facebook! Win an iPad!

Good example: Fresh French Fries, scan to 'like' on Facebook. No iPad giveaway though, so I'm not sure why I would do this. Except that I LOVE FRESH FRENCH FRIES!!

Good example: Put it on your research poster! People viewing it will likely be holding a mobile device and can go look at whatever it is you're plugging. How convenient!

Good example: Medical alert--paramedics scan with special scanner and get your medical info. These are stickers, I say why not commit and get a tattoo?

Good Example: Pint glass from Guinness.  It turns your drink into a "social media experience." How super cool is that?!

Bad example: Back of a truck. They missed the points about QR advantages being small and convenient for the user to scan! Try not to die while scanning this!

Bad example: Perkins kids menu. Because I definitely what my kids to be playing with my smartphone and syrup at the same time!


How to Scan
To scan a QR code, you need a mobile device with a camera and connected to network. Then you need a 'scanner' app. There are lots of scanner apps, just pick any free one like Scan or any one like it. Then while the app is open, point your camera at the QR code and your app will do the rest--showing you the web link that the code was pointing to.

This business of needing an app is something to be aware of when considering creating a QR code. Does your audience likely have a scanning app on their phones? (kids at Perkins? seriously.) 

How to create and track
There are lots of sites that create QR codes from a URL. But the easiest way for those of us with Google accounts (everyone at umn) is to use the Goo.gl URL shortener: http://goo.gl/. Just paste in the URL, click "shorten URL," then click "details" and you will see an image of a QR code. Right click on it and you can save it.

This is also where you can see the stats of how many scans you've gotten. If you use the shortened URL also, the clicks and scans will be mixed together, something to keep in mind.


  1. Leave a comment and let us know if you have ever scanned a QR code! Also if you have noticed a particularly good or bad use of the codes.
  2. Go to Goo.gl and try shortening a URL and getting a QR code image.

But Wait there's MORE!

Every University of Minnesota Extension-affiliated employee who leaves a comment below, or via twitter (use tag #ExtQuickBytes), facebook, or google+ during the time period November 15-November 30, 2012 will be entered to win this fabulous prize--a WTF inked stamper! You can use this to note questionable QR codes as well as other items of confusing significance. How fun!


  1. A WTF stamp? I mean, funny, but not very professional...

  2. Yes, sorry, I agree, not very professional. Maybe you can say the WTF stands for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday?
    If the winner of the stamp is not pleased by its unprofessionalness, we will be happy to substitute another item!

  3. The stamp and the examples make me think of one of my favorite tumblrs, http://wtfqrcodes.com/
    Am I the only one who would rather type in a short url than scan a QR code? It's possible. I also have issues with how ugly they look - it's so hard to merge them elegantly into a larger design piece!. Thanks for showing some good examples.

  4. I noticed today that the newest UMPD Explorers have a QR code on the rear decklid. It seems odd that the police would put a QR Code on the back of their vehicles. But, what do I know?

  5. ohmygoodness THANK YOU Jessica for that awesome link. Made my day!

  6. I have found that the link to goo.gl in your post was not working today. I tried all of the browsers and received the same error codes.


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