The History of the QR Code and How They Work

QR codes can be used in any business — regardless of the size or industry — and can generally provide:

  • Increased traffic and revenue 
  • Increased lead generation
  • Improved customer satisfaction and brand loyalty
  • Improved advertising campaigns

Understanding QR code history, why it was developed, and how it works can go a long way in helping you understand why QR codes have become virtually essential in today’s global economy.


QR Code History

Similar to many other world-changing technological advances, QR codes were initially a product of necessity. 

The economic boom that Japan experienced in the 1960s meant that the country’s supermarkets expanded and began to trade non-food products (e.g., clothes, commodities, etc.). 

The absence of barcodes meant there was an increased pressure to find a way to efficiently keep track of everything from a logistics standpoint. Since supermarket workers had to repeatedly enter every purchased item manually, there was also a health element to consider (e.g., avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.). 

The First QR Code

Even after the introduction of barcodes, a new solution was still needed because barcodes could roughly only store up to 20 alphanumeric characters of information. What’s more, barcodes could also only read data one-dimensionally. 

After being contacted by several supermarkets who wanted to expand the applicability of barcodes, Denso Wave, a Japanese automotive company, invented the first-ever QR code with the help of their head developer, Masahiro Hara. 

Hara came up with making QR codes into square shapes. This was because his research indicated that the shape was easily distinguishable while at the same time allowing for 2D reading of information (i.e., horizontally and vertically). 

If the QR code was a non-distinguishable shape, Hara feared that QR readers could easily mistake it for other nearby items, and this could create significant tracking errors. This is also how they decided what colors QR codes would be. Interestingly enough, they chose the least used ratio of black and white. 

This meant that the orientation of any QR code could be accurately determined regardless of the angle of the scan. 

Moreover, a square shape would allow information to be scanned and read significantly faster, according to Hara. This was a very important element of his invention, a fact which is evident in the name that he chose. 

The first QR code was released in 1994. 

How Do QR Codes Work?

Besides the QR code history discussed above, you may want to know how exactly QR codes function.

Nowadays, QR codes consist of seven different parts. Each part has its own purpose, and — together — they constitute the scannable “pattern.” 

Such distinct elements of a QR code can include its:

  • Print direction
  • Error tolerance
  • Empty spaces (these are used to distinguish the code from its surroundings)
  • Timing 

Generally, QR codes are scanned with smartphones rather than independent QR readers. This is because most up-to-date mobile phones have built-in QR code scanners. Less updated smartphones can download QR code scanner apps and achieve the same result. 

Scanning a QR code is very easy, which is one of its strongest selling points. By simply aiming a camera or QR code reader towards a QR code, users can be directed towards a specific source of content virtually instantly. 

There are many different types of QR codes, all of which can be used to achieve different results (e.g., lead generation, increased revenue, more traffic, etc.). 

Using our QR code generator tool, you can create the following types of QR codes for free:

Advantages of Using QR Codes for Small Businesses

There are many advantages of using QR codes for small businesses. A QR code can be used to direct traffic towards an important URL website, blend online and offline marketing campaigns, and boost user engagement for free. 

The main advantages of using QR codes include:

Improved Communication

As a business owner, you will likely need to share your contact details (e.g., your email address, business phone number, etc.).

Traditionally, these would be found on your printed business card, website, or social media accounts. The problem with that approach is simple: 

  • Users can lose printed proof of their contacts easily.
  • Users would need to manually research your website or social media accounts in order to get in contact with you. 

If we take the QR code equivalent (e.g., vCard QR code, business card QR code, Phone number QR code), business owners are able to share their details with both their employees and customers with a simple scan and without them needing to do any research beforehand.

Transparent Product Information

QR codes can be included in product packaging. These can then be scanned by purchasers who wish to be automatically directed towards a PDF document or URL website that includes further information about your products. 

This can ensure that you:

  • Provide a much more user-friendly experience
  • Increase your customer satisfaction rates and brand loyalty
  • Decrease your customer support team’s workload
  • Do not detract from your packaging’s design

Holistic Marketing Campaigns

Since QR codes can work in printed form as well, they can be a great way of blending your offline and online marketing initiatives. 

This can enable you to significantly expand your reach and can generally increase your ROI since users relying on printed advertisement methods will be much more likely to find your online content where purchases can be made.

Broader Social Media Influence

Social media is much more than a source of entertainment. For small and large businesses alike, it can be one of the most useful sources of digital marketing

This is because most large social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) allow users to advertise their products and/or services to specific demographics.

By utilizing social media QR codes (e.g., Facebook QR codes, Twitter QR codes, Instagram QR codes, etc.), businesses can direct more traffic towards their online profiles, which can then translate into increased user engagement, followers, and marketing revenue in the long run.

Enhanced Feedback

One of the greatest ways to assess your team’s performance is to implement company initiatives that incentivize your customers or clients to give adequate feedback in their own time.

Requesting feedback can sometimes be a bit awkward, especially if your business is not remote. By including a QR contact code within your store, you can allow any visitors to take a quick picture that they will later be able to scan in order to get in contact with you or your support team. 

This can go a long way in making your customers feel valued.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do QR codes expire?

QR codes do not expire unless their content does (e.g., if a particular URL or email gets terminated). 

Keep in mind that you will not be able to edit your QR codes after you have published them. If you want to change anything, you will need to make a new QR code.

What does QR code stand for?

QR code stands for “quick response” code. The name was chosen because one of the primary reasons for its development was the need to create a code that could read and transmit information very quickly.

Can I store an image in a QR code?

Since QR codes can store binary data, you can technically store any image.

Having said that, the amount of information that QR codes can store is limited, and it is generally very rare to find an image — or a sound — that can be stored within a QR code adequately.

Where can I find the specifications of QR codes?

According to Danso Wave, the specifications of their QR code were approved as a JIS standard (JIS X 0510) almost two decades ago. This means that they are publicly available.

Should I make my own QR code?

Yes. Making your own QR codes using our QR code generator is entirely free, and it allows you to customize your code so that it adequately reflects your brand. For example, you can choose your QR code’s logo, shape, and color (or combination of colors).