The use of quick response (QR) codes in museums is a polarising topic. These little black and white squares stir strong feelings in visitors and institutions alike. Some museums want to ban them, while others see them as a low-cost way of connecting visitors with digital content and services.
Since 2017, QR code readers have been included in all Android and Apple software updates, lowering a major barrier and meaning most smartphone users can now scan codes using the in-built camera.
During the pandemic, QR codes suddenly became an essential tool for digital access without the need for physical contact. Behavioural change among the public meant more people were comfortable interacting with QR codes in galleries and museums, too.
National Museums Scotland has been testing their use in exhibitions to understand how visitors respond – and the results have been encouraging. The key question is around context. Do they offer a gateway to something worthwhile for the visitor, such as a 3D model or extra video? Do they offer an additional viewpoint or insight, or just more of the same?
If museums make careful choices around what can be accessed via a QR code, and they are used with consideration for placement, positioning and flow, they can enrich a visitor’s experience.
Adam Coulson is the interim head of digital media at National Museums Scotland
Museum Tech 2023
3 May 2023, Museum of London
How can museums deliver digital outputs that meet their strategic objectives? Adam Coulsen will be among the digital leaders taking part in a panel discussion on strategy at Museum Tech 2023, the Museums Association’s digital festival for museums.