QR codes for smart packaging design

Technology has undoubtedly influenced modern packaging, helping brands to not only create attractive designs, reduce costs and protect the environment, but provide consumers with a whole host of information on the products they are buying.

Technology runs our lives these days for sure. Smartphones, computers and the internet – we can’t seem to function without them. Opportunities for manufacturers and brands to connect products and the consumer to the internet of things (IoT) through packaging have never been greater.

Smart packaging  

Although consumer cues continue to shape the direction of brands, packaging innovation has the potential to change the way those brands are developed and marketed. This is largely due to convergences in fields such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics, and nanotechnology. As further technologies evolve, this fast-growing segment will start to influence brand development even more, fusing creativity and technology through smart packaging design.

Packaging has been slowly evolving over time, bringing about changes to our lifestyles without us even realising; from the way we receive products, the way we make purchases and the way we use products from home.

Almost in parallel, smartphones have become ubiquitous in our every day lives and this has influenced packaging greatly. The rise of mobile technology in particular a phone is no longer simply a phone - it’s a multimedia device offering potential opportunities for brands and packaging alike. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is the quick-response (QR) code, a two-dimensional code (also called a matrix barcode) which is designed to be scanned by smartphones.

Within this blog, we’ll take a closer look at QR codes and how they’re currently shaking up the smart packaging space.

What are QR codes?

QR codes have actually been around for more than a decade and can be found on items such as supermarket products, utility bills and even at tourist destinations across the world.

They’re quite distinctive – a small square with patches of black that smartphone cameras can focus on and which then links consumers to some form of digital media such as a website, video and more recently to augmented reality (AR) technology.

In the past, consumers have had to download a specific app for these codes to work but now smartphone cameras and operating systems come pre-installed with the technology. This has opened up a whole host of opportunities for brands and made it accessible to more consumers. If you buy a lottery ticket in the UK these days, you’ll see it has a QR code on it – all you have to do is scan this after the draw and see whether you’ve won or not. Easy!

Contactless world

QR codes are becoming an indispensable part of our new contactless world. Consumers have become very well acquainted with the technology over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s face it, codes are now everywhere - posted on pub entrances, supermarkets and even sellotaped to picnic tables in beer gardens.

Scanning codes has become second nature for consumers of all demographics, not just younger people. Pharmaceutical companies are also getting on-board with the technology, developing Covid-19 testing apps which display users’ health status via QR codes. Ultimately these will determine whether we can return to back to work, attend a music festival, or travel on a plane.

Squares of digital imagery

QR codes have undoubted benefits for brands and consumers alike. Marketers are realising the opportunities offered by these simple squares of digital imagery and have been quick to capitalise on consumers’ tendency to have smartphones perpetually in their hands. Key opportunities;

  • Consumers can pick up their products, scan the QR code and learn more about not only the product, but the brand story, ingredient traceability or even how companies are tackling things like climate change.
  • QR codes allow brands to market to consumers beyond restrictions of the physical printing area of packaging and showcase their brand at a whole new level.
  • QR codes can be used to carry out seamless registration for product or brand initiatives, allowing easy consumer engagement without the need to go online and search for website pages

Physical and digital worlds

As more and more brands and consumers realise the opportunities presented by smart packaging, the spotlight will fall on packaging designers to continue the momentum. QR codes are no longer seen as hard to implement or gimmicky and will soon become a standard requirement for all new product launches. Brand owners are experimenting with QR codes to create interactive experiences on products that would otherwise have low engagement. They’re embracing the technology, and looking for creative ways to extend consumer experience and augment positive brand associations and loyalty through their packaging.

One thing’s for sure, the smart packaging space is set to explode as we transition further into Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing continues to marry physical production and operations with smart digital technology. QR codes in particular have the ability to drive mass adoption of smart packaging and link both the physical and digital worlds, forming a virtual bridge between brands,manufacturers, retailers, consumers and social media channels.

While it remains to be seen whether the technology will be adopted at scale, or if consumers will start to lose interest after the pandemic passes, smartphones, cellular data, and packaging innovation have certainly advanced way beyond where they were ten years ago when QR codes were first introduced  – some say well before their time.

When it comes to new technology, it’s not always about innovation; it’s about timing. Not every great idea translates into immediate commercial success. Some ideas launch "ahead of their time," either because the tech can't support the concept, or because consumers aren’t ready to invest in such a radical idea - maybe the time for QR codes has now come.