September 1, 2011 / Coverage

QR codes are making the yearbook interactive

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

Imagine a simple, two-dimensional mobile phone technology that yearbook staffs could use to make the printed pages of their books more engaging.

Sounds enticing, right? Many in the yearbook world agree, which is why staffs are adopting Quick Response Codes (QRCs) and applying them to the pages of the yearbook.

A QRC is a barcode that is readable by a mobile smartphone or a computer webcam. A code can be placed on a printed page, a reader scans it and it opens a web page with additional content, such as videos and photos. A few schools began using QRCs in the yearbook last year, and even more are planning to use them next year.

“They are unbelievably easy to use,” said Danielle Snyder, the yearbook adviser at Lake Mary Prep School in Lake Mary, Fla., whose staff filled their 2011 book with QR codes. “Honestly, it was even easier than I expected.”

qr-codesAccording to Snyder, probably about 80% of the high school students at Lake Mary Prep have smartphones, which is why using QRCs became sort of a no-brainer when one of her staffers brought the idea into the yearbook room at the beginning of the year.

“He’s got an iPhone, and he brought in an ad from Best Buy. You scanned the code and it took you to the website with a coupon and more information,” said Snyder. “Right away, we all agreed that this was something we could use.”

The staff generated the codes using the website miniqr.com. On one of the opening pages of the yearbook, they included a page explaining what QRCs are and how readers can use them.

Lake Mary Prep’s 2011 theme, Unfinished Business, was all about making the yearbook more interactive. The book was filled with quizzes, and even spots to decorate right on the page. The QR codes fit right in, and the staff used them freely on multiple spreads.

The spread on the jazz band linked to a YouTube clip of a performance. A spread about an 8th grade summer trip on a Lewis & Clark-like camping expedition used a code that linked to more information about Lewis & Clark. In the ads section, each business ad included a QRC linking to the company’s website.

“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback,” said Snyder. “The best part is, it’s not just the kids that are using them. The parents are using the codes too.”

At Gaithersburg High School in Gaithersburg, Md., adviser Chris Taylor is trying to improve sales this year and is planning on turning to QR codes to help doing it. Taylor has not even had his first official brainstorming session with his 2012 staff yet, but he’s seen QRCs applied to non-yearbook advertising and marketing materials and he knows the potential.

His ideas include codes at the beginning of each section, such as Athletics or Student Life, that link to section-specific web pages with additional pictures and videos. Taylor said the business staff could also charge a premium rate for ads that include a QRC with additional content.

“I see a lot kids with smartphones in their hands. I’m looking at two of them right now,” said Taylor. “To convince them to buy a yearbook, it helps to give them instant access to yearbook content.”

One concern staffs will face is whether QRCs in yearbooks is just a momentary trend that will be gone in a few years, and whether codes printed in books now will lead to dead web links in a couple years. Both Snyder and Taylor agreed that did not seem to matter.

“It’s technology. It’s always changing,” said Taylor. “I could see flipping through a yearbook in a few years and you won’t be able to access a QR code anymore. But that won’t be a big deal. That will be just like me looking at my old cassette tapes.”

  • The problem our yearbook staff found was not in the creation of the codes themselves; that’s easy and anyone can do that. It is publishing the media we wanted to associate with those codes and then getting the codes that were created ahead of time to sync with the content we would add to them later. In the vast majority of cases, advisers and staffs need to add their codes to their books long before they even have a chance to create the codes because of the way yearbook deadlines work. Then, staffs have to have a place online to store the media that will be permanent (well beyond the adviser’s stint at a given school), and that location needs to be able to transmit the media to varying devices (iPhone, Android, Windows phone, WebOS, Mac, Windows, etc.) with varying connection speeds and still look good given all those variables. All that was a challenge we weren’t prepared to undertake. What we needed as a yearbook staff was something that made all of that easier on us. There are companies emerging that can assist staffs with that: yearbook publishers and third party services. Just google Yearbook QR Codes.

  • Oops… that should read: “…to create the CONTENT because of the way yearbook deadlines work.”

Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is a Web Content Specialist for walsworthyearbooks.com and yearbookhelp.com, as well as a regular contributor to Idea File magazine. He's been a writer and editor for Walsworth Yearbooks for the past 13 years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.