Art, Design

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Memoir from England: the QR Code's Demise and Implications for New Technologies

  • Clary Pollack
  • Blog

Cambridge left a lasting impression and influenced the way I work. To unsuspecting tourists, the English city is a profound dichotomy inasmuch it hardly seems like a technology hotspot. From the Medieval architecture and cobblestone streets that characterize downtown to the cows who roam freely around Kings College, Cambridge is unique. Drive five miles outside in any direction and you'll be surrounded by sarcastically provincial terrain complete with thatched houses, the smell of dairy farms and billowing hills peppered with soggy sheep.

These memories define the sweetest years of my life.

Côte Brasserie was the first place my husband and I ate after we arrived in Cambridge on August 22, 2011. The movers had packed up my house in Asheville, NC three days earlier after our wedding. We were newlyweds in one of the most beautiful places in the world on a cool summer evening, having a beautiful meal and holding hands. But my foremost memory of that night was of our waiter. (This is nothing like the scene from Eyes Wide Shut when Alice goes into lascivious detail to Bill about her fantasies of the hotel bellboy on their honeymoon.) The reason I remember the waiter is because my husband asked him if he had ever heard of QR codes. When he said he hadn't, my husband invited him to sit down with us and proceeded to show him a QR code I had just configured for a client. The waiter must have been 20 years old with poignant candor: "This will never take off." He laughed and we asked him what was so funny.

"Look, this is just completely useless. People might use them in America, for now, but this is a trend that will come and go. Nobody's even heard of them here." And then, calling over fresh-faced colleagues, "Have you ever heard of QR codes?" We got the point. 

My husband begged to differ but I listened carefully; in the world of marketing, we understand the merit of early adapters and focus groups, which was what our date had turned into. (Early adapters are young people who are the first to latch on to new trends. Our waiter had the latest iPhone, the trendiest haircut, the brand new trainers and confidence that oozed innovation. He said he was a student at Kings College, which was no surprise as he clearly appeared to be on his way to great things, along with the menagerie of fellow servers who had also never heard of QR codes.)

Seven years later, they were right: QR codes didn't take off. They were cumbersome, annoying. While they might have been able to take you to a website, they offered nothing in the way of engagement. Perhaps the most significant cause of the QR code’s demise was Siri’s debut in October of 2011, merely weeks after our dinner at Côte Brasserie.

The point is simplicity: It's all about end user experience. In the world of web development, that’s the most important thing.