I’m sure by now you’ve heard of, or at least seen a QR Code… you know those funny little square black and white designs you’ll sometimes see in an ad or on a sign somewhere? They’ve been around for about 10 years in Japan and Europe, but they’re just taking off here in the United States.
QR Codes (the “QR” stands for “Quick Response”) can hold varying amounts of data, even up to several pages worth of text. Anyone with a smartphone can read the code, and instantly decode the text, or connect to a relevant website. Newer phones have the capability built-in, and older models can use one of the free apps such as i-nigma.
I’ve seen them integrated into art projects a number of times (including artwork by at least two artists at the Fountain Art Fair in February), and of course I keep seeing them offline as well (a sticker on a lightpole, a sign taped up somewhere in the grocery store, etc.) I’ve even started using them on the backs of greeting cards I design for my Zazzle stores. But this is possibly the most brilliant use of the technology I’ve seen yet. [Read more about it on the Free Art & Technology blog.]
In a conceptual combination of QR codes and the analog chalk symbols used by hobos in the 19th and early 20th century to “tag” various locations as hospitable (or not), you can now create your own QR Code stencils using the QR Stenciler app. The application creates a stencil for a QR Code, even including the bridges necessary to keep all the parts of the stencil together. You can use your own QR Code, or one of the provided “Hobo Codes” (like “Free Wi-fi” or “dangerous neighborhood”). Once you have the stencil cut out (by hand, or using a laser-cutting service such as Ponoko) use your stencil and some non-permanent chalk, ink or paint to “tag” your hangouts.
I had a similar idea 15 years ago when I was in art school (long before mass customization sites made it easy to produce things like stickers and stencils on demand) to come up with a variety of modern symbols people could use to identify themselves. My vision was hundreds of icons for labels people use to describe themselves like “Mac” or “PC” or “lesbian”, “smoker”, etc. These would be printed on stickers and available to anyone… My friends at the time didn’t get it, and so I dropped the idea completely. How I wish I’d kept at it! I made some of my own “hobo code” stickers which are available here.
Below are just a few of the ready-made QR Hobo Codes available… click the image to see the rest.