Using QR codes in documentation

In the past six months, I’ve worked with two clients who wanted to add QR codes to their documentation.These have been the first instances where I’ve been involved in projects that used QR codes, and they’ve led me to ponder on what the right use of QR codes is in documentation. In what scenarios might they actually be helpful rather than just a distraction?

Real-life scenarios from my projects

In the first scenario where we used QR codes, we added them to the pages that would print when a user clicked the “print this page” function in the HTML5 help output from Flare. In this scenario, the documentation was going to be used in a setting where the users wouldn’t have any access to a computer, so there was a high likelihood that they would print the documents out and take them along to the site. This was also high-turnover environment. The QR codes on those documents simply linked back to the original article online, and the intent was for users to be able to quickly get back to the online version to check for any new updates.

In the second scenario, the documentation team simply wanted to add the QR code to the front page of their books. The codes would link to the company’s website, and really had nothing to do with documentation at all. Honestly, I think the driving factor behind this decision was to impress the boss with the technical capabilities of the documentation team.

Were these good uses?

In the first scenario, I think the team was trying to meet a legitimate concern by using the QR code — providing an easy way to the users to get the latest-and-greatest. But was this really the best solution? QR codes are meant to be read by mobile devices, and most mobile devices that I’ve ever used don’t have print functionality. So, if a user saw updates to the topic, he or she would still need to log in using a web browser to be able to print the new topic. Wouldn’t it have just made more sense to include a URL in the printed version rather than a QR code?

In the second scenario, I have the same reaction. Why not just use the company’s URL instead of the QR code? Making a positive impression aside (which may be a valid reason), I’ve struggled to find any other justification.

So when do QR codes actually help?

I’m very curious to find out whether others have used QR codes in their documentation and what function they served. In the first scenario that I mentioned above, I think they could have used QR codes to great effect by linking them so something other than the html page for the topic. What if instead, they had used a QR code to link to a video that showed the user how to perform the task he or she was engaged in? This could have been highly effective in this scenario. But alas! That’s not what they chose to do.

What ways have you used QR codes in your docs? Have you ever encountered a QR code in docs that you’ve used that were helpful?


One thought on “Using QR codes in documentation

  1. I think QR codes should be used for what they were design to be used: for building a bridge between hardware and software. For example, you could print a QR code on a part of a machine (hardware) that links to a help page for that part of the machine, or to maintenance instructions, or …

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