Destination QR


Last week I argued that websites and other technologies are vehicles, not destinations.

So what *is* the destination?

                      As cultural institutions, we want it to be us.

But here’s the thing… the definition of ‘destination’ is finite. It’s “the ultimate purpose for which something is created or intended.”

And why wouldn’t we want to be that? (Let’s be honest, it’s not entirely unlike us as museums to feel we are the ultimate purpose!)

But should we be?

What happens once people have arrived? If we’re the destination, what’s the point of going any further, learning any more, exploring, delving deeper, making meaning, co-creating, participating, growing, finding inspiration? If we reposition ourselves as part of something, we become integral and embedded in peoples’ lives.

I’ve been thinking a lot about QR codes.

If you’re not familiar, they look like this:

(That one happens to link right back to this blog. Try it! Download a reader for your smartphone via your app store.)

QR stands for “quick response” and is essentially a bar code system for smartphones. There have been plenty of arguments for and against them, and I have certainly seen them misused and poorly executed, but I would advocate that their utility in museums and culurals has amazing potential (and at minor cost).

For those in need of a little convincing, have a look at this breathtaking use of QR codes in last year’s WorldPark in NYC:

QR codes can be made for free (try Google and Microsoft) and printed out on a basic printer. They can link to any existing webpage– content, music, video, information, surveys/polls, social media. The applications and implications are pretty exciting.

While the WorldPark is by far my most beloved example, there have been some other great applications of QR codes. Check these out:

Have you seen QR codes used in culturals? (I saw them at the Denver Art Museum this week!) Did it “work?”

If you see QR codes around, let me know. Snap a picture. Send it to me.

Are you using QR codes/tags in your museum? Tell me about it!

How can QR codes help us encourage our audiences, inside and outside of our institutions, to dig deeper, delve further, look at the world differently, and see things we showcase in a whole new light?

Are we comfortable relinquishing our title of ‘destination?’

Oh! And stay tuned…

In a few days I’ll let you know what we learned when we showed our visitors a QR code and asked them of they knew what it was.


11 Responses to “Destination QR”

  1. Kathleen Tinworth

    10 comments (migrated from Blogger):

    Anonymous said…
    Brilliant! As I watched that video, my mind was just whirling with ideas for application in museums/historic sites. Whirling!

    What I like best about this is how it improves on the flawed concept of cell phone tours. I don’t care for cell phone tours because they isolate the audience. Listeners are internally focused to their phone and others in their group are ignored. They can also be expensive. With the QR code you can share content, turning your visit into a group activity.

    Yesterday I was in conversation with other Museum Professionals and there was a discussion on how to interpret closed/locked historic structures in public settings. Signage was the easy answer, but what if this were also accompanied by a QR code that would link the audience to a video tour or the curator giving extended interpretation that is too complicated for signage? You could have video demonstrating activities that will occur during special events, inviting people back to see the real thing. The static, seemingly lifeless structure now has a voice and you may have just built a new audience. Love this.

    April 30, 2011 8:34 AM

    Anonymous said…
    Thanks for the links, Kate! I have been curious about these and needed to find out more.

    I agree, Betsy! For outdoor area and living collection they can also give you choices without long, long interpretive signage.

    Can’t wait to hear from your visitors!


    April 30, 2011 11:36 AM

    Andréa said…
    I recently visited the Denver Art Museum and saw QR codes used in their Blink exhibit. I am, admittedly, an art novice, in fact, is there anything lower than that? Anyhow…I loved the use of the QR codes they gave insight into the artist, and the piece. Which I desperately need! The great thing was that I could use the QR codes when I wanted (which was nearly everytime I saw them) but other folks in my party, with a far deeper understanding of art, could take what was given on the label and interpret the art themselves. The QR codes made a lot of sense for this exhibit, but as we explored other parts of the Museum I found myself looking for more, hoping I’d find another!
    I see the potential in QR codes in museums perhaps a QR code scavenger hunt, QR codes that reveal secrets of the museum or an exhibit, what stories aren’t being told by your labels? How can you use QR codes to share this rich history?

    May 2, 2011 9:57 AM

    Mark said…
    Kathleen – the code example you posted is not a QR Code, but a Microsoft Tag. It works pretty much the same, but requires a different kind of reader. The codes in the NYC video are QR Codes. We are currently using Microsoft Tags in the Vantage Point exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

    May 2, 2011 12:25 PM

    Kathleen Tinworth said…
    Mark– you are so right!
    I tried to keep things “simple” in the post but inadvertently opened up the proverbial code/tag issue.
    I think it’s so good you brought it up because the issue of having the right reader is such an essential one. I was in a museum last week trying to use the MS Tag reader but they were QR codes so it didn’t work.
    What can you tell us about using them at NMAI? How’s it going? Do you use any volunteers or staff to assist, as they did in the World Park (NYC video)?
    Thanks for posting!

    May 2, 2011 12:30 PM

    Jeanne Vergeront said…
    Kathleen, This is fascinating. It has great potential for varied applications. I love its low-impact quality for natural environments. Thank you!

    May 3, 2011 8:36 AM

    Stewart Bailey said…
    Kathleen, this is a really great post!
    I’m an exhibit/interpretation designer and have been fascinated with the potential of this technology for a while. I had not seen the World Park example, it’s really inspiring. I particularly like the way they integrated the codes into the graphics. I’ve always had reservations about that unintelligible block of code just sitting there on signage and labels- this makes sense of it.
    Coincidentally, I’ve just made a post on what I think might be the next step beyond QR codes – the kind of landmark identification being used in the “Google Goggles” technology. Please have a look if you get a chance, I’d love to get your comments.

    May 5, 2011 6:44 AM

    Kathleen Tinworth said…
    Jeanne and Stewart– thanks for your comments. This post has generated some great conversations. Stewart, your blog is fantastic! I will certainly comment soon. I too think there’s such incredible potential in the next steps in image and landmark identification. This is a fascinating time to be a part of this world of ours, isn’t it?!?

    Apologies for disappearing for a bit. I have what you’ve been waiting for.. visitors’ responses to QR codes!

    We showed an image of a QR code to 16 visitors. 5 (about a third) knew what it was. That said, those 5 hadn’t used them. For those who didn’t recognize the QR code, we got responses that ranged from ‘Native American design’ to ‘puzzle.’ My anecdotal research with both a 13yo and a 72yo in my own family indicated that perhaps if you crossed your eyes it would become 3D.

    So what does this mean for using QR, MS Tags, or other identification software in museums and culturals? Is it futile? Worthless? Nope. Not at all. Watch the NYC WorldPark video again and notice their ‘helpers.’ We may need to lay some groundwork with visitors, but the pay-off could be high. In time, perhaps there won’t be a need for an app download or a certain type of phone, but for now the learning curve may need to be built in to the design.

    What’s next for ExposeYour Museum?

    Here’s a teaser…

    Tomorrow I’ll blog about how to capitalize on consumer trends steeped in instant gratification, personalization, and exclusive access… all in a way that exposes your institution in a completely new (and ultimately accessible way). Oh– and this could be the move that makes your museum’s name spread worldwide, if you jump on it first.

    May 10, 2011 10:46 PM

    Kim Golden said…
    Wow. Thanks for sharing those examples of codes/tags, especially the World Park video! One of my favorite experiences with such tech so far has been an exhibit full of tags at Midway airport by Adler Planetarium. I was able to scan the tags for space pictures I wanted to learn more about once I got to the gate (what else are you going to do but wait?). My time flew by as I revisited the pictures that intrigued me and learned why they are special.

    May 16, 2011 9:52 PM

    Kathleen Tinworth said…
    Absolutely my pleasure to share all the things that inspire and excite me. It’s actually sort of a compulsion that can’t be stopped! 😉
    Yes, the WorldPark tags are brilliant. The Midway airport tags sound fantastic too and I will have to check that out. Thanks for pointing us to it.

    May 17, 2011 6:45 PM

  2. Kathleen Tinworth

    My friend and colleague, Andrea Giron, reminded me of a cool site that does a low(er)-tech version of the cool “past in the present” stuff you see in the World Park Campaign video. Check it out: Something similar could go a long way in terms of demonstrating and documenting our museums’ past, evolution, and growth in a very beautiful visual way. Thanks, Andrea!

  3. Mike

    Nice article – love the WorldPark video.

    I’ve done a bunch of QR stuff in the wild – see for one example (scanning codes on badges at a museum conference giving people vcards). Also another one where I ran a team-based game using QR.

    Both went well – the people using the codes were native technologists in both cases, though, so happy to put up with foibles and weirdnesses of the tech. Also, in both cases the content which was made accessible to people was worth having, which made them much more forgiving of the usability issues which sometimes cause problems with QR. Often the pro / con lobby forget that this whole debate centres around motivation to take part and the rewards you as a user can find rather than the tech per se.

    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Hey there, Mike. 
      I agree with you– absolutely. Thanks for sharing your stories and lessons learned, especially through your blog. Fantastic stuff. Going points too about end content needing to motivate and drive use/behavior. 
      As someone who is working with QRs, what do you think the lifespan is? And what’s next? Honestly, I think it’s less about QRs lasting (which they won’t; tech changes) and more about how cool it is to engage people in content in the ways QR facilitates. They actually have some degree of control over navigating, direction, and depth. There’s some discovery there and, as you pointed out, utility can be built in too.
      What’s the next level? Layer on gaming or social aspects? How about creative expression or users adding content too? 
      The possibilities are pretty exciting. 
      Thanks again,

  4. Mike

    @Kathleen – honestly, I’m not sure the focus should be on QR per se. QR performs a function which is equally well performed by other technologies.

    The actual thing that QR is doing (normally: driving people to a URL) isn’t nearly as important as things like

    1) the motivation that people might have to scan/take part
    2) the content that people get
    3) the usability

    So in my vCard example – the reason people took part was yes, because they were geeks – but more than that it was because the system actually gave them some content that might be useful to them.

    Asking people to scan a code just because it is there is clearly going to elicit a “meh” response.

    Ultimately, this is about content engagement – the technology that is used to hook people into that is IMO unimportant.

  5. Damon

    Nice post and glad to see more non-techies using QR codes. A nice overview if even a little misleading on the “QR code” that is a Microsoft Tag as @Mark pointed out. MS Tags are not read by a majority of barcode/Data matrix/qr code reader apps but that is an easy fix.

    Keep up the great work of making museums more engaging!


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