Do QR codes (will NFC) present or obscure information?

Who has time to check their phone for information on what foods are best while they’re in the middle of shopping?

The use of QR codes on physical objects is an interesting use case, mostly because of the usage of a code to represent information. Information scent in QR code use cases is quite minuscule  as in most instances, users have no idea where they will end up leave alone what information will be presented to them once they get there and this is irrespective of the effort required for interaction to take place.

Information scent - As animals rely on scents to indicate the chances of finding prey in current area and guide them to other promising patches, so do humans rely on various cues in the information environment to get similar answers.

Human users estimate how much useful information they are likely to get on a given path, and after seeking information compare the actual outcome with their predictions. When the information scent stops getting stronger (i.e., when users no longer expect to find useful additional information), the users move to a different information source.

Referencing a use case that I recently encountered, a food packaging had an ingredients list, preparation instructions, date of expiry, QR code, UPC code etc but most importantly lacked nutritional value information. Most importantly because that information is necessary for consumers to make an informed decision when making purchases and has been mandated for all packaged food.

What I guessed was the QR code could point me  to the nutritional value information, but I could never be sure. To pause my shopping task and start scanning QR codes in search of information that should already be there felt like an additional task, one that would slow down rather than speed up my primary task. And even though my phone may have QR code capabilities, it is thoughtless to expect all consumers to have QR code capable phones. Is that design for all or design to obscure information?

But at least QR code use cases that may match the one described above fits the the QR codes current commercial objective – beyond mere convenience to the consumer, the importance of this capability is that it increases the conversion rate (that is, increase the chance that contact with the advertisement will convert to a sale), by coaxing qualified prospects further down the conversion funnel without any delay or effort, bringing the viewer to the advertiser’s site immediately, where a longer and more targeted sales pitch may continue – Wikipedia.

QR code usage [Infographic]

QR codes may result to:

  • Uncertainty that makes users pay (with physical and cognitive effort) for information or its scent that should already be presented to them in the first place
  • Disruption of users’ primary task and rather than speed it up, elongate them with a minuscule return on additional tasks completed or effort input
  • An extra disruption in goal completion path if interfaces present ads over desired information
  • Devalued users’ intrinsic motivation if gamification techniques are used - creates virtual food pellets  getting people to take actions that are not always in their best interest, without the use of force, in a predictable way.

Contrary to the emphasized engaging user experiences, QR codes may result to useless, unfulfilling and unwarranted experiences.

In instances where QR codes have been used to describe production cycles – greenness, environmental impact, the organic methods used in production, and the lack of toxins among other things, should also be complemented by law by ensuring that all products sold meet set production criteria and minimum requirements to ensure that, consumers, even if they do not scan the codes can be assured that whatever they purchase falls within what is allowed. NFC may also emulate the same user experiences as QR codes if its use cases are not designed thoughtfully.

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6 thoughts on “Do QR codes (will NFC) present or obscure information?

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  3. The QR code has many different functional uses. It has gained much traction as an increasing number of consumers are using smartphones, as well as the fact that it has been released as an ISO standard free of any licensing. This allows any business, government, or person to freely use QR codes for any purpose they see fit. Today it is often seen used with advertising as a quick way to give people more information.

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