The National Galleries of Scotland were clearly excited early adopters of QR codes, only three months after the first iPhone was introduced.

This is a question that I get asked fairly regularly. A few years back, I expected to be answering this question, ‘no’, by now. Yet what I envisaged as an intermediate technology, has proved surprisingly enduring. I think this is because nothing has really superseded them. I was expecting that NFC might have. This is the technology used in contactless credit/debit cards, and is also built into smartphones, for contactless payment. Yet in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the humble QR code has experienced a renaissance.

What is a QR code?

No seriously, what is it, technically? They are what’s known as a two-directional code, unlike a barcode which can only be read in one direction. That matter because 2D codes can hold much more data. The more data a QR contains, the bigger it gets. We are used to QR codes containing web addresses but that’s not all they can do. I have a QR code on the back of my business cards, containing my contact details. They can even contain images, assuming you really want a QR code the size of a table mat!

The good news is that smartphone users don’t need an additional app to scan QR codes. The phone’s camera will recognise a QR code in much the same way as it recognises faces.

So what’s not to like?

I can’t say I like the look of them. Although, they don’t have to be black and white – there just needs to be sufficient contrast for them to be easily read.

From an interpretive point of view, as with any any solution that requires visitors to ‘bring their own device’, this can’t be guaranteed. Therefore, deciding how central this content is to the experience is more crucial than the deciding whether or not using a QR code is useful for people wanting to access it.

The most critical thing is maintaining any web content that they are linked to. IT managers need to be aware that the content is there and that the URL can’t be tinkered with or it will break!

Connectivity is the other consideration. While this is getting better and cheaper all the time, there are of course ‘not-spots’, which will vary depending on the provider. Providing public wi-fi is the safest bet to ensure connectivity. This doesn’t necessarily need to be linked to the internet. Websites can be served locally via devices like InfoPoint and Vis-Box, which overcome any concerns about reception or data-usage charges for overseas visitors.


Proceed with caution. There are a few hurdles to be overcome in getting visitors to scan QR codes and access the content, and then it can only be supplementary. As a result we have rarely used them and were we have, we generally don’t use them on anything that is difficult or costly to replace. 

QR code used to help visitors connect to an Info-Point wi-fi network at Jordans Quaker Centre

Mid Hants Railway A4 workshop flip-book page