Thursday, December 2, 2010

QSL cards and QR Codes: another evolution in connections

I had a neighbor once (I'll call him Charlie) who had a huge antenna running up the back of his house. It looked like an over sized version of any old standard TV roof antenna. This was at a time when cable was spreading through neighborhoods like cracks on a pond of thin ice so TV antenna's were disappearing quickly.  He would occasionally stop to chat on his daily walks with his Dachsund, and one Saturday I found a way to steer the conversation toward that antenna of his. I was surprised when his eyes lit up. It turns out that Charlie was an avid Ham Radio operator, and he like talking about it.

I found the passion he had for his 'hobby' to be intriguing. First, a couple of years earlier I had designed a Ham Radio QSL card for a print vendor who was also a Ham Radio enthusiast. He exhibited the same sort of excitement about the activity that Charlie did. The project turned out to be fascinating. The design possibilities were endless. Secondly, I was also working on one of my first web design projects at the time and the connections between ham radio enthusiasts and internet users started multiplying in my mind. People love connecting. That fact seems to be driving some of the greatest innovations of our time.

Fast forward to one of the latest innovations beginning to materialize– QR codes. It's only a coincidence that they share the first letter in their acronyms. I find that they are very similar in their purpose, connecting people. One of the interesting things about designing the ham radio card was to see how they were used. I found numerous images of walls plastered with hundreds of QSL cards within easy access of a waiting Ham Radio, which would look like something out of a 1950's war movie. As a typography enthusiast I was amazed. Even seeing styles from diverse cultures all in one place was fascinating. Some of the Japanese QSL cards were amazing. Do a Google image search sometime on 'ham radio cards' and you'll see what I mean. There are actually collectors of these cards and rightly so.

What about QR Codes? You can do a Google image search on these as well and you'll find a pretty wide selection. It's also pretty evident that designers are pushing the envelope to give QR codes personality and brand. They are definitely going to be more prevalent than ham radio cards ever could be, mainly because they have the added dimension of driving business. But, will they ever be collector's items? Time will tell.