QR Codes to Enrich Posters

by Guest on April 25, 2012

Gregory Mace is a Graduate Student at UCLA. He is part of the team developing MOSFIRE (the Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-Red Exploration) and maintains the NIRSPEC Brown Dwarf Spectroscopic Survey online archive.

The next time you prepare for a conference and think of printing copies of the poster or taking individual frames from videos of simulations, consider using QR codes to link to this information.

QR (Quick Response) codes have turned up all over the web, poster advertisements, and in magazines. The QR code is a two-dimensional barcode that contains the pertinent information, which is easily read by a smartphone or tablet. This information might be contact information, a link to a webpage, event information, or map coordinates. Upon scanning the code, web links are opened without typing in the address, text is displayed, or emails are initiated. These interactions are also saved to histories on the phone and can be emailed to yourself for later reviewing.

All that you need to use a QR code is one of the hundreds of free reader apps available for the iPhone, iPad or Android devices. Creating a QR code is free at websites like qrstuff.com, which provides an array of content, color, and size options. Below are two QR codes that took less than a minute to make, the first (black) for theAstroBetter homepage, and the other (red) for APOD.

It will be a long time before we have electronic displays instead of tack boards. However, putting QR codes on posters and flyers provides a quick and simple way of merging printed materials with web and video content. The QR code below links to the UCLA Galactic Center Groups animation of stellar orbits in the central parsec of the Galaxy. Rather than a series of images strewn across a poster, the viewer can experience the full animation on their phone or tablet, while continuing to engage with the science being presented in the poster.

Although we can vastly increase the usability and content of our posters, we must also refrain from overuse of these codes to explode poster content beyond the size limits of the meeting. However, embedded links to references, contact information, animations and poster copies are all valid ways to reduce the clutter of your poster and focus on the science you are presenting.

How have you used QR codes?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marcos April 25, 2012 at 7:52 am

Color me skeptical about QR codes. Until reading them is built into the iPhone they’ll never go beyond uber-geeks, and I doubt Apple has any plans to embrace them. How is a QR code better than simply astrobetter.com? The actual word is more memorable, and I’m pretty sure takes about the same amount of time to type that in than to scan a code.

If you want to share contact info, have a stack of cards. If you want to link to a web site, put a simple URL on a print out of the poster that you hand out.

That will work so much better than a QR code which few people will know what it is and even fewer will scan, because the number of people who see a QR code and have a QR code reader app on their phone is very small. Plus QR codes are ugly. My humble opinion: keep them off your poster as they just don’t add significant value to enough people. Maybe for a hyperlink to a complex URL but even then, most people simply won’t be able to convert the QR code to a URL. See:





2 David R April 25, 2012 at 8:44 am

I created a brief website that included a copy of my poster, the paper it was based on, and some extra information and linked it with a QR code on my AAS poster. However, knowing that not everyone has QR readers I also included the URL. I guess that defeats the purpose of QR codes?


3 Gregory Mace April 25, 2012 at 10:30 am

Did you track your webpage traffic to see how many visits it got? How many people did you see scan your code, as opposed to writing down the link?

4 David R April 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

I unfortunately didn’t track down the traffic: that would have been interesting.

5 David PS April 25, 2012 at 9:41 am

I must say that I love QRs. In part I agree with the article Marcos post (the long one about why QR code is failing, though the tumblr one made me laugh). Though the article is aimed to advertisement, it has few good poings (and good ideas!). Nevertheless, I think they are quite useful to link to extra data, info, or just a pdf version of the poster. I may have no seen anyone taking a picture of the QR codes, but I’ve seen people taking pictures of the poster itself with their digital cameras (lately more people doing so with their mobiles). So, I just think it’s a matter of time.
Why that it’s better than urls? because url could be extremely long! and there’s more chances the people copy it wrong.
Contact details? with apps like Goggles (http://www.google.com/mobile/goggles/) you can just scan them and get them saved (easier and faster than the cards, plus you can take a picture of the person to remember his/her face).
You want to be in the safe spot? then have a wepbage to the poster (using some meaningful short url), and there show all the animations you have linked in the poster. But keep the QRs for linking to the extra material. If I see a poster with a frame of a simulation, with my phone I can take a picture to the QR code and get straight away to the video of it (I would hate to be pointed to a web that then I have to browse to find out which video I want to see).
And if you are worry of the ugliness of the QR, then it’s because you have not used much, they can be very small and even you can make them nicer: http://hackaday.com/2011/08/11/how-to-put-your-logo-in-a-qr-code/


6 Sunne April 25, 2012 at 11:28 am

If you are worried about long url, you can use google (http://goo.gl/) to shorten it.

7 Erik T April 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm

I think that while Marcos’ point about the relatively small audience is a good one, it’s not a totally negligible fraction. If you look at the article, it actually says that 40% of those surveyed (in SF, admittedly), knew that it was a barcode. I would guess the fraction of astronomers who know about QRs is at least comparable, given that we’re a technically-oriented bunch. So it isn’t like no one will ever know what it is… and I bet astronomers have a higher smartphone fraction than the general population.

And while one certainly can put in a short url, I find that QR code scanning is still faster (and less error-prone) than simply typing in the URL. So *if* you have the tools to use QR codes, they definitely increase the odds of following the link. And if you have a cool video to go with your poster, at a well-attended conference, one person viewing the simulation may end up with people clustered around them watching said video… so there’s also a multiplier effect.

It is important to always provide a URL with the QR code, though – I know some people are mildly offended to see QR codes without URLs, because if they aren’t in the “smartphone club,” they are excluded. So the best case is to provide both QR *and* a tinyurl.


8 Jeremy Sanders April 26, 2012 at 7:20 am

Just put a URL on the poster (through a URL shortener if it is longish). Also hand out copies as you want to get a maximum audience.


9 Ouss April 27, 2012 at 7:57 am

I have already use a generator which manages all the functions you mentionned. That was: http://www.unitaglive.com/qrcode


10 F. Z. April 30, 2012 at 4:05 am

I prefer a url, phone number, or e-mail address so I don’t have to open a QR reading app. At least in addition to the QR code that I won’t read.


11 graviton April 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I’m actually a big fan of QR Codes. The reason is my scanning software on my phone keeps a complete record of what I scan. Scanning URLs and contact info into my phone via QR Code is far easier and more accurate than writing them down or typing them into my phone. Having all of that together in one place makes it very easy to integrate into my digital records of things I’ve seen and was interested in. A QR code that links to a PDF of the poster or the affiliated paper is going to be infinitely better than a digital picture of the poster. I think the point of linking to dynamic content (movies, for instance) is very interesting idea as well, on that could be exploited to good measure.


12 Ryan T. Hamilton April 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I started putting a QR code on the last slide of every talk two years ago that leads to a (now somewhat broken; whoops!) page that lists presentations that I’ve given: http://astronomy.nmsu.edu/rthamilt/conferences/.

All of my personal webpages have Google Analytics in them, and the QR code actually leads to a tinyurl that I can track usage of as well. It hasn’t been heavily used, though I suspect that’s due to factors other than technology. It takes almost zero effort to have both the QR code and the tinyurl up on the screen so I see no downsides.


13 Patrick M. Len May 2, 2012 at 9:01 pm

I used both QR codes and URL shorteners on a poster from a few years ago:


14 David Gruber May 10, 2012 at 8:53 am

I actually created a poster with JUST the QR code (presented here http://www.mpe.mpg.de/events/GRB2012/) 😉
Poster: yfrog.com/oc5ttdp


15 Jimmy October 12, 2012 at 8:07 pm

The simple way to add QR Code to your website is http://www.pageqrcode.com service. Just insert HTML Code into your website and QR Code is ready.


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