Digitalized Rorschach test or space invader motif?

Ottawa residents are quite familiar with lawn signs these days, particularly those advertising political candidates. Three elections in less than a year means voters might be growing tired of sign wars. But one local Liberal is hoping you’ll take a closer look at his sign.

If you’re in Ottawa Centre, look a little closer at Yasir Naqvi’s signs, and you may see what looks like a digitalized Rorschach test or space invader motif on them.

Take a look at the photo gallery and audio below for some reaction from local voters as they walked by Naqvi signs.

Yasir Naqvi’s QR code from OpenFile on Vimeo.

Naqvi, the incumbent in his riding, has added a QR code—that stands for “quick response”—to the bottom-right corner of his signs.

“I wasn’t aware of QR codes in my last campaign,” he says. “They came to my attention in the last federal election in Montreal.”

Naqvi was so impressed with the technology, he insisted his election team use it during this year’s provincial election.

QR codes are a 2D barcode that can be scanned by smartphones and are free to generate. The technology was developed in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave and was embraced in Japan and Korea.

A keen advocate of social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, Naqvi believes these codes provide greater accessibility and transparency.

Gregg Slapp, owner of online QR code business, said that QR codes are being used in increasingly inventive ways.

“Some of my customers have generated QR code temporary tattoos containing ticketing info for a live music venue that not only gets you through the gate, but are connected to be your pre-loaded bar tab at the in-venue beverage outlets,” says Slapp. “Some businesses have put a QR code next to the photocopier containing a link to a YouTube video showing how to use the photocopier.”

If you scan Naqvi’s barcode, you’ll be forwarded to his campaign website. Naqvi says that this not only ensures quick access to his website, but also that people don’t misspell his name—a common problem.

Green Party candidate Kevin O’Donnell, however, says Naqvi has missed a golden opportunity to maximize the potential of QR codes.

“It’s about as much effort to take out your smartphone, launch your QR code reading application, aim it at the code and have it read it, as it is to simply manually type out the URL,” says O’Donnell.

“It’s neat technology,” he continues. “But just linking to a webpage is like having shiny, reflective tape on a sign to make it more obvious to people that react to shiny, reflective tape.”

But if the technology has been around for so long, why isn’t everyone using QR codes? And why choose to use them in an election campaign?

There seems to be a market for this kind of technology with more than 24 million smartphone subscribers in Canada, a staggering 47 percent of whom are aged 18–44. But despite the technological hype, there’s a key problem: most consumers, or voters, don’t know what QR codes are or how to utilize them. Naqvi admitted that he’d had to inform a number of citizens what the QR code was for.

The Progressive Conservative candidate, Robert Dekker, said that only smartphone owners would likely know what the symbols are for.

Dekker says his team had considered using QR codes. “But we didn’t see it as being an important part of the lawn sign,” he says. “The signs are really for name recognition as you’re driving around.”

Slapp says that while QR codes cannot submit personal information, smartphone users are still vulnerable to malware and viruses.

“Scanning any random QR code you come across in the street is like clicking on any random web link you find on the internet,” he says. “it will end badly, because you haven’t exercised any discretion or caution about the content you choose to bring into your smartphone.”

O’Donnell says he’ll make better use of the codes in future campaigns by putting a unique QR code on each individual sign, and making a note of where that sign is.

“So at an OC Transpo bus stop, you’re waiting and bored and so you could read a message about how our party wants to encourage biking and walking so that you don’t have to wait for a crappy bus,” explains O’Donnell. “And we’d explain how you could have just biked there by now without having to look at this web page in the cold.”