You will have seen them in magazines, on bank statements, food, clothes labels and business cards. The black and white square QR codes are appearing everywhere. You might find their two-dimensional pixilated look intriguing in a way that the linear one-dimensional bar codes have now ceased to be and you might be wondering at their purpose.
QR (Quick Response) codes started as a tracking device in the automobile industry and today can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone equipped with a camera and a code reader, a free downloadable app for smartphones. All you need to do is click the barcode reader app, point your phone at the QR code and that's it - immediately the encoded information appears on your screen. There is no need to key in a long website address and you can do it all while on the move. You can even create your own code and download it on printed materials or online.
Here's a short video explaining how to use a QR code.
Art in Healthcare was prompt to recognise the benefits of this technology for their art collection displayed in hospitals and care homes and earlier this year, they initiated a large task that involved several of their staff and a dozen volunteers. Artworks and artists were researched and the information was uploaded to the artworks' webpages selected for the new Royal Victoria building at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. There are more than 50 artists with artwork in the Royal Victoria including Elizabeth Blackadder, Alan Davie and John Houston.
Abi Allsopp, the AiH Media Manager, explains: “When a label is scanned by smartphone, a webpage for that specific artwork is opened and the viewer can find out all sorts of information including descriptions and details about the work they're looking at, the life and work of the artist who painted it, and other pieces which are similar to it. The project at the Royal Victoria building was generously sponsored by Laing O’Rouke building contractors and match funded by Arts & Business Scotland. Since starting the project in June we've had almost 100 page views per month.”
The number of views mentioned by Abi confirms the opinion generally held that QR codes are more than just a passing phase. The benefits to the patients, staff and visitors are obvious, the QR codes enrich the experience of the artworks and of the moment by opening a whole world of ideas and information in just a few seconds.
If you have not tried it yet, why don’t you have a go with the two QR codes below.
Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer
and visual artist based in Edinburgh