Can you imagine citizens registering and paying for classes they see in a printed recreation guide in ten seconds or less? Can you envision them scanning their dog’s license tag and renewing it within minutes, rather than days or weeks? These scenarios could be realized by the use of barcoding technology and the right combination of mobile-compatible applications.

Example QR Code

I’m sure you’ve been noticing those funny-looking square bar codes on everything from billboards to business cards. These “Quick Response Codes” (QR codes) are highly valued by tech-savvy people who understand the time-saving benefits of this technology.  Primarily accessed by smart phones and other mobile devices, they save you the trouble of manually typing in needed information. For example, it is easier to click a scan button on your phone than to start your web browser and manually type in, especially when you are on-the-go.

A Variety of Uses
QR codes are valuable for inclusion in all types of hardcopy materials produced by government agencies such as brochures, fliers, and invoices. For example, business cards should contain a QR codes so that someone can scan your card and recycle the hard copy.  A printed zoning map should include a QR code to an electronic version of the map, so citizens can easily access the latest version.

Less often, QR codes are used on web sites because it’s just as easy to click on a link. However, there are exceptions. For example, it may be beneficial to include a QR code on your web site to direct mobile device users to your official citizen request mobile application. Then they can instantly install the application on their mobile device in order to report potholes, graffiti, and more.  This saves them time from having to go to their “application store” and then manually searching for your organization’s application.

Some organizations imprint QR codes on promotional items such as coffee cups, t-shirts, hats, bags, business ties, and even chocolates, although government swag is highly discouraged!

QR Code Types
What other types of QR codes are available beyond web site addresses? You can generate QR codes for “how to” video links,  map Locations, plain text “notes”,  telephone numbers,  Skype calls, text messages, email addresses, email messages, virtual business card contacts, calendar events, Paypal “pay now” links, Wifi hotspots, and many more.

How They Work
When scanned by a smartphone, tablet, or other QR-code-compatible device, various actions occur depending on the type of QR code you have scanned.

For example, on an iPhone, you simply touch the scan icon, and point the camera at the code. Within about two seconds, as soon as the code is scanned, the action occurs. Such actions include being directed to a web site, adding an event to your calendar, or dialing a phone number. The latter of the two require you to “confirm” that you want to add the event or dial the number, so the risk level in scanning a code from an unknown source is relatively low.

Why They Are Different
Unlike standard one-dimensional bar codes, most of which store about 20 characters, QR codes are useful because they are two-dimensional and can store over 4,200 embedded alphanumeric characters, and even more if the data is solely numeric.  For example, an entire virtual contact (name, company, title, phone number, address, web site, etc.) can be stored in a 1.4” square graphic. When scanned, a contact is instantly added to your phone’s contact list.
The more information that is stored, the more densely packed the graphic is with dots and lines, and the larger the graphic must be for the scan to register on the mobile device. Distance and size are both factors when using QR codes. For example, if the QR code will be located on a bill board 300 feet from the average scanner, the code must be large enough for the device to capture it.  If the code will be printed on a coffee cup, it must be large enough for a person sitting across the boardroom table to easily scan it from their seat.

It’s Easy to Get Them
You don’t have to decipher the QR Code algorithm in order to get a QR Code to imprint on your marketing materials.  There are hundreds of sites who have already done this for you. You simply type in your web address, business card information, phone number, etc.  and click a button. Most of these applications allow you to download your QR Code in a standard graphic format that you can then paste onto your marketing materials. Some such sites are and, and the Tec-It site allows you to generate free business cards in a PDF format, including your organization’s logo.  Always test your QR codes before printing them en masse, or publishing them online.

Customize Your QR Code

Custom QR Code Example

If you have an in-house graphic designer, consider having them design a unique QR code that is branded with your logo.  See my example to the right. It’s the same code as the one above, but with a touch of color and appropriately-placed graphics. This is possible because certain areas within the QR codes are not entirely needed for every QR code type; these areas can be replaced with colors, logos, and other small symbols. Various graphic design sites, such as, will create custom-designed codes for a fee.

Keep in mind that this quick-access, mutated form of bar code technology, which originated in Japan from the manufacturing industry, is quickly evolving.  It will be interesting to see what the next generation of these exciting new information tools will bring us. They will surely result in many new and exciting opportunities for revenue-generation and improved customer service.

Lea Deesing is the Director of Information Technology for the City of San Bernardino, Calif. She has been working in the information technology field for 25 years and in local government for over 15 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems and a master’s in Public Administration. Lea specializes in educating top government officials about relevant and emerging technologies. Scan the QR code, above, to contact her.