Signs of Change: The demise of paper business cards

Business cards from famous fictional compaines
Business cards have long been one of the staples of professional life. People take them very seriously and my first boss thought that the style of a business card was at least as important as the way you dress or greet clients.

Now that is set to change, as new companies aim to send the paper business card the way of the 8-Track and Telnet email client.

Three popular apps - Bump, Hashable, and Cardcloud - are presenting alternative methods of sharing contact information quickly and easily, each with a distinct hook. Bump uses physical proximity; users open the app and bump their phones together - gently! - which triggers the data transfer. Hashable sends information via Twitter or email accounts, and uses a "check-in" system to help you track meetings with contacts. Cardcloud also uses email, and automatically generates social network friend requests, records the location where you met your new contact, and provides a virtual "back of the card" for taking notes.

What's notable is that, for now at least, these apps are presenting new, arguably more efficient, methods of performing the same tasks. They are not changing the nature of information exchange, or adding on new levels of experience that I have seen. In fact, right now they strip much of the experience out, as the vCards (Virtual business cards) look like the contact list in Outlook, and not the highly designed, customized, personal pieces of art some people carry in their pockets. Paper business cards also may be more memorable; you get the card at the show, take it out of your pocket when you get back to the office, and type the information into your database, as opposed to just tapping a couple buttons.

At the other end of the spectrum are the QR Code-enabled business cards. These may be standard cards with a link to your website, or minimalist cards with links to a more detailed profile online. However the code is used, they serve the effect of tying your paper cards back to the digital world. Given the explosion in QR code adoption this past year, I strongly encourage anyone reprinting their business cards to include a code.

I suspect people will continue carrying paper cards for many years before digital programs make them obsolete, and not just because most people have a multi-year supply in their desk that needs to be used up. The tangible benefits are just too great. I would not recommend anyone abandon paper cards yet, but I do recommend creating accounts on these digital systems and learning to use them; they will become important secondary tools.

[h/t ReadWriteWeb]

France's QR-enabled building

Teletech International has chosen MVRDV to remodel a building in the French city of Dijon. The proposed redesign includes QR codes on the fascade.

I was able to scan the codes, both of which resolve to MVRDV's homepage. The checkerboard-esque QR design also extends to at least one interior room, which, sadly, does not seem scannable.

I like this. Aesthetically, it speaks to the adoption of QR codes into popular culture, and how significant their impact has and will be. From a marketing perspective, I love the idea of branding a building like this, forming a direct connection to the institution's website.

QR codes point to an HTML address; make this a forwarding address and it is easy to change where the code points. This means the exterior code can become a sponsored ad, featuring a different company every month. This could also be a way to embed useful information, such as building maps, a school's course catalog, a calendar of events, or even, as MVRDV has done, a link to the building's designer.

It sounds like this is going to be painted onto the building; I wonder how long before a masonry or precast manufacturer develops a more permanent solution.

Are "Likes" more valuable than "Tweets"?

According to a new study, getting your event "Likes" on Facebook can be 67% more profitable than having the same event Tweeted. The study, published by ticket seller Eventbrite, demonstrated how messages on each site contributed to increased ticket sales:
[Eventbrite] announced Wednesday that an average tweet about an event drove 80 cents in ticket sales during the past six months, whereas an average Facebook Like drove $1.34.
At first glance it is unsurprising that Facebook generated more ticket sales, if for no other reason than it has more members. But it is remarkable that each "Like" generated proportionately so much more.

I suspect this is because Facebook is more strongly focused on "Friends". A lot of that has to do with the undifferentiated nature of Twitter traffic - I frequently miss posts from my friends amidst the tide of information - versus Facebook's stronger focus on "Friends". More than that, though, Facebook feels more like a personal recommendation while Twitter is just "information".

It is also worth noting that the strongest results came from post-purchase Likes. In other words, it has more impact if your friend has bought ticket and is attending, as opposed to just sharing the webpage of an interesting event.

What does this mean to building product manufacturers?
This demonstrates that social media word of mouth is still a powerful force. Twitter is great at generating traffic, but those are often short, high bounce rate visits that do not convert to sales. Facebook's Likes are more than just link-sharing, though. They are personal endorsements, especially if they follow purchases or interactions with a product.

To take advantage of this, put a Like button on the order confirmation page of your site, if you offer online purchasing. If not, consider following each purchase with a "Thank You" email that contains the Like button. Similarly, reach out to people involved with the project that used your material; encourage them to share their experience, even if they were not the one that made the selection and purchase. QR codes may be a good way to reach on-site users; create a QR code that links directly to a Like button, and put it on your packaging so contractors can share their enjoyment of your product.

Signs of Change: US #1 in Mobile Barcode Usage

The numbers are in, and in Q4 - 2010 the US became the largest user of mobile barcodes.

Mobile barcodes, of which QR codes are the best known format, are quickly gaining acceptance world wide. The release also reports a nearly 500% increase in usage over Q4 - 2009.

This is further evidence critical mass has been achieved. It can be expected that enough, if not all, US consumers (and those from the other nations in the top 10) are aware enough of what mobile barcodes are, and how to use them, that a mobile barcode campaign is a viable option.

To learn more about mobile bar codes, see these posts.

[h/t QR Code Magazine]

Fortune 50 Companies Use of Mobile, QR Codes Increasing

A new study came out Wednesday that shows mobile usage by Fortune 50 companies is on the rise. What can building product manufacturers, especially smaller ones, learn from this? Let's examine the results:

  • 62% have a mobile website or app, but only 39% publicize it on their website.
  • Mobile websites focus on simplified navigation and on-the-spot utility.
  • Mobile is being used for shopping, requesting quotes, paying bills, checking accounts, and placing orders. The study points this out as "Transactions, not just information".
  • Mobile includes voice, images, video, and location-based content.
  • 22% are using QR codes.
The study, conducted by Burson-Marsteller/Proof Digital Research, shows an interesting combination of action and inaction, especially the revelation that almost half the companies with a mobile presence do not publicize it. I am curious whether that stems from research and experience, or just oversight. Regardless, for smaller companies a mobile presence can be a huge selling point so I strongly encourage you to publicize your mobile site. 

The finding about QR codes is also exciting; a company like Ford or Sears can do a lot to help spread adoption of an emerging technology. Ford uses QR codes in their ads the same way manufacturers in our industry can: "Here's a picture of a beautiful truck; scan this code for further information, videos, and to learn where to buy." A commenter correctly pointed out that this information is just hype until we see better numbers about QR scanner downloads and scans per day, but this is still a sign of progress.

[h/t QR Code Magazine]

Privacy Issues with QR Codes

My basic philosophy of internet privacy is this: if you put it on the internet, it's not private. Period. Doesn't matter how many passwords, firewalls, or encryption keys you put in front of it, if someone somewhere can see it on their screen - including you - it can become front page news on Google tomorrow. As new internet technologies break out, it is important to remember this maxim applies to them as well. We may not understand what the privacy risks are with some new medium, but rest assured they exist; be careful about what you post, and as new privacy implications are discovered act accordingly.

Which is why this post on QR Code Magazine is a must-read; it highlights potential privacy risks in proprietary QR readers that most users may be unaware of:

When you download a scanning app that can resolve proprietary 2d codes...it will contain a unique identifier. Every time you scan a code the app will send that unique identifier to be logged and passed on to whoever was allocated the code.
As with much of this type of data collection there does not seem to be an overt connection with your personal identity (it won't be linked to your name or home address), but it will create a unique profile based on all QR codes scanned by your phone or other device. There is, of course, buried in the user agreement for these scanners, a line granting the company the right to sell and use your data as they see fit.

Roger points out that all QR codes send some form of identifying data - every visit to any webpage does - but for non-proprietary codes that data is non-unique and mainly used to help display the page correctly. My computer, for example, comes up as a laptop running WindowsXP browsing the web with Firefox 3.6 and displaying pages in English; not enough to build a strong profile around, in other words.

Implications for Marketers

The implications are two-fold: your prospects might block your message while protecting their own privacy, and there could be backlash if they later find out you helped "steal" their data.

First, many net citizens, and especially early adopters, are getting good at using privacy protection techniques, combining software and behavior. One way or another, this means they may be unwilling or unable to use your QR codes if they contain proprietary formats known to create and sell these unique user profiles.

Second, if it later comes to light that the QR codes they've been using for years - yours - have been building this profile all along there is potential for a major backlash. This is the type of thing that got Facebook into trouble this year; people started learning that their personal data was not as private as they expected, and they got pissed. It has not hurt Facebook's overall market position, but it generated tons of bad PR.

The indirect, proprietary codes are enticing to many companies because they come with strong campaign tracking and management tools. I understand that appeal; paying for a pre-made service can be much more attractive than trying to design your own system for free. Weigh in these hidden costs, though; what will the user experience be with the proprietary service? Are they getting a better experience in exchange for your money, or just the same service with more annoyances?

Direct and Indirect Barcodes

Roger has a great explanation of the difference between direct and indirect 2D barcodes. In brief, direct embeds the data in the code, while indirect stores the data on a server and just embeds a link in the code, which means you need an internet connection (and probably proprietary software) just to read it.

It's a short article and worth a read. I agree with Roger's conclusion:
Given this limitation of requiring an internet connection you may wonder why anyone of sound mind would want to use the indirect method? However the proponents claim that it is both more secure and also results in a smaller code. All I have to say is that in Japan where QR Codes are ubiquitous I have never seen or heard of an indirect code. Both direct and indirect methods fail to “switching” or “code-jacking” and as to size there are easy options for direct codes such as using the Bitly shortener.
Some indirect code providers, most notably Microsoft's Tag, are doing some very cool things with the art for their codes and back-end campaign tracking capabilities. You will have to decide for yourself if the benefits outweigh the costs for your 2D barcode campaigns.

Critical Mass: Mobile Barcode Scanning Up 700%

ScanLife recently released a Mobile Barcode Trend Report showing a 700% increase in mobile barcode usage since January 2010. This includes both 2D (QR Codes) and 1D (UPC codes), which suggests that beyond following links from ads and marketing literature, people are using the technology to research products they are about to buy, while holding it in their hands.

This tells me that the technology has reached a critical mass; enough people are now using it, or will be soon, that it is now valuable for your company to get started. Most of the products scanned are consumer products, but as I've said about social media in general, as people get used to using the technology at home they will start looking to use it at work.

Key points from the study:
  • Growth is exponential; more people scanned barcodes in July 2010 than all of 2009.
  • The growth curve seems to be getting steeper.
  • Most (85%) codes link to a URL.
  • In ScanLife's words: "The two most popular categories are from every day products that one would find in their kitchen or bathroom." Right now that means food and toiletries because you can scan them at the store, so it would be easy to extend that trend to hardware, DIY products, and paint.
  • The typical user is 35-54, male, with an income over $50,000. This describes typical early adopters, but also could describe the typical architecture firm.
It is important to note the study only reflects data from one company, but ScanLife is one of the largest players in the field, so their trend data tells us something useful about the industry as a whole.

Meanwhile at QR Code Magazine, Roger reports on a study finding that 15% of shoppers would scan a QR code for information about a car they were considering. And what information would they scan a QR code to get?

Environmental performance data.

Anyone out there have a green product? If so, I hope you're paying attention. The EPA and DOT are proposing that by 2012 all new hybrid cars have labels with QR codes linking to information about fuel economy.

One of my communication technology professors liked to tell us that the value of the first fax machine ever sold was nothing compared to the value of the second one. One in six people are now using QR codes and growth is exponential; how much is that worth to your company?

QR News: Surveys, Real Estate, & Certification Programs

QR codes have arrived. While they are still gaining mass recognition and acceptance, they are now used in enough places and creative applications that they will be a "must-use" technology within the next few years. Having opened my eyes to them, I see them everywhere; in the grocery store, on my mail, on billboards, and in industry magazines. Here's two sightings of innovative QR programs:


TwitterMoms QR Code Seal of Approval

The TwitterMoms Seal of Approval is a social media-based guerrilla version of Consumer Reports; 25+ moms evaluate the product, and post their reviews. It uses the high perceived trustworthiness of peer review and word-of-mouth to create a program untainted by "pay-to-play" certifications or "sterile lab conditions" instead of real-world testing.

Sound like something that could exist in the construction world?

The seal now
uses a QR code to link to online information and reviews. As Roger at 2D Codes puts it:
The TwitterMoms Seal of Approval...is using a QR Code to enable users to scan and read detailed ratings and feedback from the TwitterMoms review process. Enabling the reading of comprehensive product reviews at the point of sale combined with the wisdom of the TwitterMoms crowd just has to be good news for consumers.
Again, the value of a program like this in the construction industry would be incredible. Most architects don't think point-of-purchase, but contractors do. And having one-click access on phone or laptop to safety instructions, installation videos, warranty info, and much more would be a huge benefit to them. And architects would still benefit from the reviews, especially those from other architects that have used the product and can give insights the product literature does not. Combined with an online spec writing program, this could become a one-click "Scan here to specify!" Linking the QR code to LEED calculators, GreenFormat listings, or other online databases also fulfills the "Rule Three" criteria of making the content valuable to the user at the moment they scan it. 

QR Code Survey System

Recommendi links QR codes to customer surveys, creating an opportunity for on-the-spot feedback. Their gallery showcases uses in restaurants, posters in store windows, and on invoices and receipts. I am constantly getting receipts at restaurants and stores asking me to call or visit their webpage to take a brief survey; the ones that don't go straight in the trash get used as bookmarks. But using the QR code makes it easier for me to respond in the moment, and more likely that I'll actually take the time.
Where would you want instant feedback from your customer? On the sales literature your rep leaves behind? In your trade show booth? On the customized technical drawings you just sent them? How about user surveys from building occupants, "Scan here to tell us what you think of our lighting!"

Transforming Static "For Sale" Signs

Clikbrix uses QR codes on "For Sale" signs outside properties to link to online information. From their website:
Imagine a house hunter spotting a Clikbrix QR Code on your ‘For Sale’ sign, agency window or any of your printed, promotional materials... from bus shelters to business cards. She simply opens the QR Code reader on her...mobile device...then points and scans to instantly connect to your Mobile-friendly Professional Profile webpage, paired with robust details of the relative property including stunning photos—she also gets the inside story on the neighborhood, from the best schools to hot restaurants, shops and more. The prospective buyer loves what she sees and is delighted she can e-mail the detailed Property Listing page to her friends; she even shares it on Facebook and Twitter.
Point-and-scan access to information about your company on a jobsite sign? That sure sounds valuable, especially when it can be paired with information about how your product is being used on that job, why it was chosen, and an automatically-generated email to your local representative.

Now obviously none of these directly impact construction, or are aimed at building product manufacturers, but they are proof-of-concept about what can be done within our industry. There is a wealth of information about your product online - both pieces you posted and user-generated content. The easier you can make it for architects to access that information, the more confident they will be in using your products.

What innovative uses of QR codes have you seen? Tell us in the comments!

URL Shorteners for SEO

URL shortners, such as bit.ly and tinyurl.com, have become ubiquitous. They received a huge boost from Twitter's rising popularity because https://webportal.csinet.org/events/vieweventdetail.aspx?code=C72DFE83-657D-DF11-BD27-0019B9E160B2 (a link to our upcoming CSI Webinar on Guide Specs) takes up many times more characters than http://tinyurl.com/28as8nr (98 to 26, in case you were wondering). Beyond reducing character count, a post at SEO Chat blog explains their potential SEO benefits.

Part of the benefit is what I demonstrated above; it's much easier to share a shortened URL than the full-length, complex, multi-layer URL, especially for pages with dynamic content. It makes it easier to distribute photos, press kit, guide specs, etc. without worrying about creating a new, easy-to-access high-level page on your website. Also, there is a natural intersection with QR codes because shorter URLs are easier to store and harder to damage. The article also points out that long URLs are more likely to be broken by email programs, which can be a major problem if you are doing a newsletter or email marketing.

The article contains a helpful overview of how URL shortners work, which is very useful if you are new to using them (ironically, I did not shorten that link). Then the author gets to the meat of the question:

So how are you going to implement this in your website?
Step 1: Convert all external URLs (the original long URLS) into their equivalent bit.ly URLs...
Step 2: To make the URL SEO-friendly, you should use the correct anchor text, the title element of the link should be set to the original URL, and the href element to the bit.ly URL.
What does that mean? Using my earlier example, when I link to the webinar I will use http://tinyurl.com/28as8nr (the author likes bit.ly, but they are largely interchangeable), but use the TITLE tag so the link looks like this: CSI Webinar on Guide Specs.

The link now contains three layers of data: the DISPLAYED TEXT ("CSI Webinar on Guide Specs"), the LINK TITLE (the big long URL) that displays on mouseover, and the TARGET URL (the shortened link).

Why is this good? Because it explains what the link is and shows where it will take you, but if someone copies or share the link they get the shorter, easy-to-use version.

There are, however, some security risks involved with URL shortners, which this technique exposes; you have no guarantee the link you're clicking goes where you think it will go. That could eventually cause some trouble for spam filters, so use shortened URLs cautiously and honestly.

You may not feel like redoing every link on your site as he recommends, but it is an interesting technique to consider. Enough so that I'm looking into creating our own private link shortener so we can get these benefits without being dependent on an outside service.

QR Product Certification Marks

The Japan Coolant Material Association has started using QR codes as product certification marks. From an article by QR Code Magazine:
The script across the middle has the association name and the code resolves to a mobile site with the product manufacturer’s details and more information about the product.
No additional information on this yet, as the site is in Japanese and I have not found a translated source.

I like this idea. A common complaint I hear from manufacturers is they spend all this money getting a certification, but no one knows what it means! Granted, if the certifying agency is unknown that might be a warning sign. But considering how many highly specialized certifications are out there, it's entirely reasonable a specifier might not yet know the one your company uses. Making the logo scannable means instant information about the certifying organization, and what exactly certification means.

More than that, the codes are easily customized so instead of scanning to go to the GreenFormat homepage, for example, I could scan to go directly to your product's GreenFormat profile. This would be very useful for specifiers, giving them instant access to very detailed information.

It would also benefit the certifying organization. Many manufacturers misuse, intentionally or not, certifying agencies' logos, implying an endorsement that does not exist. To cite a common example, the USGBC does not certify or endorse products. Many manufacturers, however, claim USGBC or LEED certification for their products. If USGBC integrated a QR code into their logo, it could point to a page explaining this.

How would QR product certification marks help you?

[UPDATE] Corrected the name of the source site from 2d-code to QR Code Magazine.

nora Rubber Flooring's Blackberry App

Rubber flooring company nora is offering a free Blackberry app aimed at helping designers make color selections while on the road. Their page also offers an online color selector and, impressively, a QR code to download the app with instructions on how to use QR codes!  

I have not gotten to use the app yet, since I do not have a Blackberry, but I like what they have done. It shows they know their target market makes decisions in the field, and has a certain amount of tech-savvy. Presenting this with the online color selector is also a great idea because it expands the ways designers can use the tools and interact with the product.

Having the QR code is great; it skips the multi-step process of downloading the app to your computer and syncing to the phone, or the annoyance of typing a complex URL on a Blackberry. Providing links to instructions and a reader is very helpful and demonstrates, to me, attention to customer support.

There is no word on the site about upcoming iPhone or Droid versions; if these are not in the works it seems a surprising choice. Blackberry users are not the strongest app adopters. I wonder if nora's customer profile shows a strong preference for Blackberry, or if this is a choice that will prove limiting.

Based on my limited view of the program itself, it seems to be basically a digital catalog. It provides no tools for doing anything except choosing nora product colors and contacting a sales rep. This type of branded utility works great for loyal customers, but may not do much to bring in new customers or create a viral spread.

Still, creating this app makes nora one of the social media leaders and innovators in the flooring market and I applaud them for their commitment to innovation and customer support.

"Be The One" uses QR codes to promote Gulf clean-up

As both an important environmental story and a creative use of social media technology, the "Be The One" effort deserves your attention. From their website:
In light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, Women of the Storm is rallying to restore America’s Gulf coast now and for future generations. The “Be the One” effort intends to galvanize the nation around the cause of coastal restoration in order to demand that government leaders address this critical issue.
Considering one of their sponsors is YouTube I'm not surprised they're using social media well, but I was impressed by their use of QR codes to encourage people to sign their petition. Note the simple, but effective, customization.

In addition to QR codes on signs and billboards, they are offering a scannable t-shirt, taking the usual benefit of branded clothing a step farther. Now instead of just a passive, but mobile, poster, the shirt becomes a portable hyperlink to the site. Presumably, people who wear this shirt will wear it around similarly-minded groups, who would be highly likely to also sign the petition. In other words, imagine a couple of people show up wearing this at the next USGBC meeting. Talk about highly targeted marketing!

This is a great example of what's possible with QR codes: create a highly targeted landing page, put the code where it will have the most impact, and use some outside-the-box creativity. This could have a huge impact at trade shows, with your whole staff wearing scannable shirts as they're out networking. I want to see these in the product demo area at World of Concrete and the Concrete Decor Show; put one on the concrete artist your company is sponsoring, with the message, "Want to know more about the products I'm using? Scan my shirt!"

Please take a minute to check out the "Be The One" page and sign their petition. The Gulf oil spill is one of the environmental disasters of our age, and to be true to our ideals of sustainable design we must also clean the world outside our buildings.

Tag Used (Almost) Correctly

In last month's ASHRAE Journal, Price Industries ran a full-page ad including a Microsoft Tag - their proprietary version of QR codes - and used the Tag almost exactly correctly. Unfortunately, the one rule they broke is the big one.

Here's the ad:

At the bottom is the tag, with instructions on how to use it. Including instructions is a smart move, and I like that they used the black & white version so it would still work if someone made a non-color copy of the ad.

Scanning the tag brings you here:

Very cool; the site's good looking, and it's information about the project I was looking at in the ad. That gives it relevance, which is essential to a successful QR Code campaign. [Note: I use QR Code as the "Kleenex" of the industry, because it's a more resonant term than "Two-dimensional Bar Code"] Users want information about their current task at hand, not a webpage they might be interested in later.

Where this fails, though, is the landing page itself. Look at the screenshot above again. Here's a link to the same page on a full-size browser. You need that second link, because most of the screen from my iPhone is too small to read! It is essential to have all your QR Codes point to mobile friendly sites!

When I started researching QR codes, a simple search of the app store brought me over 20 readers in a few seconds. Looking for a reader that works reliably from my desktop took days. Most people will use QR Codes with a phone, so the content needs to be optimized for mobile screen sizes.

In summary, Price did a great job of using Tag in their ad; it was clearly displayed, looked good, and had relevant information. But they failed to use a mobile-friendly landing page; that's a big enough sin to almost erase everything they did right.

5 Uses For Location-Aware Technology

Location-aware technology is the current hot-topic in social media circles. As is the case with most new forms of technologies, the first crop of applications are essentially toys and games (Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, CauseWorld, etc.). The most successful and useful location-aware programs (Yelp, Twitter, photo galleries) are primarily preexisting programs that added location features. Either way, the underlying technology has huge implications and potential. Here are five ways location-aware technology can be useful in building product marketing:

  1. Geo-tagging Photos: Using location-data from the other side, photos tagged with location data provide an extra layer of information about the featured projects. As Michael is fond of saying, all construction is local. Architects don’t just want to know your product was used, they want to know it was used in their neighborhood, or one similar to it. Increasingly, photo gallery programs feature built-in location filters that automatically create “albums”, meaning architects can both flip through projects near them, and find the location of their favorite ones.
  2. Create Project Tours: This is something Gowalla does well, demonstrating again that this year’s “toys” can become next year’s indispensable tools. Users can create tours, marking several of their favorite locations and linking to information about each. Use this feature to create a walking tour around towns where you have several notable projects; encourage your prospects to check-in at each (achieved by clicking an in-program button while at the location), and have a prize or coupon for those that visit all the sites. In addition to building engagement, this is a good way to advertise how much work you’ve done around town.
  3. Job Signs: Similar to QR codes, geo-tagging is a good way to publicize your involvement in a project. While QR codes require active participation (users must open the program and scan the image), location-based ads can be more passive, popping up on maps automatically within a defined range. This can also create a permanent digital signature on your work, especially as the precision of these programs increases. Imagine getting a message on your phone as you walk through a building: “Look up! The light fixture shining on you was made by Juno Lighting”, with a link for more information.
  4. Trade Show Ads: This is most similar to the typical retail uses of location-based ads. As show attendees approach your booth, a message pops up telling them about your new product and any special show offers you may have. Alternatively, you might list all the shows you are attending this year, and have special offers for people that check-in at more than one of them. This also works with allied products: attendees visiting a concrete polisher might receive ads informing them of near-by stain or cleaning product manufacturers.
  5. Architectural Location-Based Network: Eventually I hope one of the existing networks will create architecturally-focused addons, or someone will create a location-based network specifically for the construction industry. In this network, buildings’ location-tagged profiles could tell users about materials used, design team, energy savings, and similar important information. Architects would gladly participate, both creating and viewing profiles, because they would enjoy the meta-level experience of seeing a building on so many different levels. Meanwhile manufacturers and contractors capitalize on the architect’s experience by linking their name to the project.
These uses focus on the social media-aspect of location software; there is an entirely different range of applications within design programs, combining BIM with location-aware software to improve many aspects of design and construction. I will address those in a future post.

Customizing QR Codes

One of the top questions at my presentation last week on QR codes was how to make customized codes that incorporate company colors, logos, etc. The extremely artistic codes may require decoding software (to determine which parts of the image are essential), lots of trial and error, and someone who can, well, draw.

I cannot draw, and only have basic graphic editing software at the office, but I do have a good supply of trial and error, so I spent some time this morning seeing what I could produce with a simple QR code and Photoshop. Fortunately our logo is simple, geometric, and square-based, so we got some good  results.

For the first attempt I simply layered the logo over the QR code and made it slightly transparent:

Anything over 66% transparency was too opaque for the code to scan, so the colors were a bit more washed out than I was comfortable with. Also, I had to make a lot of the lines thicker and heavier, losing some of the grace of our actual logo design. Interesting attempt, but not satisfactory.

Next I tried one of the most common approaches: creating a white space in the middle of the code, and inserting the logo:

I'm always impressed how much information can be removed from the center of the code without breaking it. It does count towards the 30% data loss limit, though, so this one is more vulnerable to damage.

Next came a fun attempt:

The corner targeting symbols are one of the essential parts of a QR code, so in general you should leave them alone. I could read the code with this level of modification, but removing the black box to just show the logo broke the code.

Finally, I pushed my Photoshop knowledge to the max (and asked for copious amounts of help) and built the color layers into the code itself:

This is where having a square logo really came in helpful. I really like this one; for the next revision I'll make the colors a more intense shade, so they show up better against the black, but this did basically what I was hoping to do.

Final analysis: the experiment was a success. With an outdated version of Photoshop, minimal artistic skill, and a little creativity (and a lot of trial and error), you can do a lot to put your company branding into a QR code.

5 Uses for QR Codes in Construction

QR code for www.buildingproductmarketing.com
I am giving a presentation today on QR Codes for the local AAF chapter. The question I get most, besides "What are QR Codes?", is "How can I use these in my industry?" With that in mind, we brainstormed a list of five ways QR codes could become useful in construction.

First, a word of explanation. QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes that are readable using smartphones or webcams. The essentially operate as a hyperlink that connects printed media to the digital world; scanning a QR code does the same thing as clicking on a link, and can provide most of the same functionality.

What does that mean? Here are five examples:
  1. Link to Technical Information: This is the use I am most excited about. Imagine you are on a job site, trying to figure out how to install some new product. Spotting a QR code, you pull out your phone, scan it, and - BOOM! - the installation instructions and data sheets pop up. Contractors may not have internet access on job sites, but most carry a phone with a camera. Inspections could make use of this, comparing the actual site to the plans. Architects looking at the product sample sitting on their shelf can use it to get the guide specs in a single click.
  2. Jobsite Signage: Many manufacturers have trouble figuring out how to display their company name and contact information on the job site. Complicating the matter, interested prospects may forget your name and phone number before they have a chance to call. Include a QR code on your signs, and they can instantly add your contact information to their phone book, open your website, or email a rep.
  3. Emergency Contact Information: QR codes can auto-dial phone numbers, open webpages, or send pre-written fill-in-the-blanks emails. This could earn them a place on HSW sheets, making it easier to quickly reach poison control or emergency services. Or maybe they are directed to someone in your company, so you are informed of the situation and can respond appropriately. For that matter, they could even link to video first aid guides.
  4. Project Information in Photos: Put a QR code on the page next to project photos, and readers can quickly access online information about the project. This could be a case study, real-time energy savings, or even a map with driving directions.
  5. Sales Literature and Business Cards: This last one is not construction-specific, but it is important. Like with job signs, putting a QR code on your printed sales collateral and business cards makes it much easier for people to contact you, and therefore more likely to actually call you instead of just dropping your card in the trash.

QR codes are huge in Japan, and are just now reaching critical density in the US. Relatively new organizations like Semapedia.org encourage readers to "Hyperlink your world!" As adoption spreads, I anticipate many innovative uses within our industry.

How would you use QR codes in construction? Tell us in the comments.

Barcoding Building Product Info

Barcodes may have new opportunities in building product marketing thanks to cell phone applications and improved bar code technology. There are now cell phone applications that can read bar codes to launch other programs. Consider, for examples:
  • Your product label has a bar code. In the field, an installer shoots a picture of the barcode, reads the picture, and then connects the installer to an online demonstration about how to install the product. When the installer downloaded the app, he or she registered created a profile so the cell phone app can connect the installer to the right data for the climate, location, and preferred language. You are able to collect valuable data on who is using your product.
  • An architect is scanning your print catalog or reading a magazine add. A quick snap of the bar code promptly directs the designer to additional information.
Reading the barcode is potentially faster and less prone to error than typing in a long url address for a website.

Golf Digest is already using a similar barcode system. According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Those who pick up the November issue of Golf Digest magazine will see similar two-dimensional barcodes accompanying certain articles. These, when scanned with a smartphone equipped with the Microsoft Tag app, take readers to video tutorials related to the article they accompany. Some might say it’s surprising to see such innovation from a golf magazine, but the move makes sense – golf is one sport dominated by ever-changing technology. Why wouldn’t a publication committed to following it be the same?"