From restaurant menus to boarding cards, from COVID green passes to bus or museum tickets, QR codes are part of our daily life, like the smartphones that display and scan them rapidly through the camera, thereby avoiding the need for a paper support.

QR codes have also invaded the world of publishing; books and magazines are crammed with additional contents that can be reached through this technology, as we will better see further on.

But, what is a QR code and where was it invented?

QR is the acronym for Quick Response, which refers to the fast answer the device provides by scanning and decoding information. QR contents consist in a two-dimensional code (a square composed of many of tiny squares) that can contain up to 7089 numerical characters or 4296 alphanumerical characters. Basically, its technology is similar to bar code technology, but this, being one-dimensional, can contain no more than 20 text characters of information. Actually, QR codes are not infinite, but the number of combinations that can be generated is incredibly high.

QR code for chapter insights. Taken from one of our latest work for Loescher Editore (Il materiale e l’immaginario)

The QR code was invented in 1994 when the Japanese company Denso Wave developed it to keep track and identify car components in Toyota’s factories. Later on, based on its capacity of containing more data than a bar code, also other companies started using QR codes for stock management purposes.

In 1999, Denso Wave authorised using QR codes under a free licence. In the same period, in Japan they gradually developed the technology to use the web from smartphones. As QR codes provided immediate access to information, such as addresses and URL, very simply through smartphones, they started being increasingly used for advertising in magazines, newspapers and advertisement billboards.

Their use spread more slowly in Europe and the United States, with a certain notoriety arriving only around the end of the years 2000. However, this technology boosted with the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic when it proved to be an extraordinary tool to dematerialise a number of  printed materials, such as restaurant menus, to comply with the safety and health rules in force.

QR codes can contain different types of data: links to internet sites, URL and web pages, as before, but also phone numbers and e-mail addresses, graphic contents such as photos and videos, audio contents, documents in various formats, payment forms and links, business cards, maps, and texts.

Thanks to their broad possibilities, QR codes have gradually replaced the previous methods to take advantage of digital materials also in textbooks. Now, through your smartphone, you can directly reach a whole set of video contents (such as video lessons), Power Point presentations, audio contents (such as listening to literary texts, summaries in audio format), documents (large PDF files unsuitable for book printing, or further insights), additional and/or interactive exercises, etc.

Another minor revolution adding to the numberless novelties that, over time, have transformed the world of publishing, and the world in general, too.

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