Stopgap or Staying Put? The Future of Floor Graphics and QR Codes
Amid the lockdowns of our recent “pandemic year,” and the many changes brought into our workplaces, homes, and lives, two specific applications -- driven by print -- came to the fore in ways that transcended their previously-known purposes. While they proved astoundingly useful for the purpose of public safety, I wonder if they will fade as the effect of the pandemic lessens in our lives.
Floor graphics became ubiquitous during the latter half of 2020, as retail settings and other places where people might congregate were in need of ways to promote social distancing, control the flow of people in aisles and passageways, and provide suggested spacing. As the pandemic has begun to ebb, thus lessening the need for such prescriptive visual cues, these floor graphics have mostly been removed -- peeled up from the floors, their ghostly outlines buffed into eternity.
While floor graphics were nothing new to those working within the graphics segment, they were, in my opinion, an application in search of a purpose. The recent pandemic-driven need for floor-placed direction gave them that purpose in spades, leaving graphics producers scrambling to source floor-specific materials. In some shops -- for a time -- it was these applications that kept the wide-format inkjet presses running.
In 2011, when I was serving as managing editor for the SGIA Journal (now the PRINTING United Journal), I curated an article on QR codes, outlining what they were and how they could be used. In most of the ten years in-between, QR codes struggled as a bridge between the printed and online worlds. They were a bit clunky to use, and when they were used, they often were not worth the effort. Like floor graphics, QR codes were in need of a compelling purpose -- something that made them truly useful -- and the pandemic filled that gap.
QR became profoundly useful as restaurants began to re-open, allowing touchless menu-viewing and even touchless ordering and transactions. This served to limit proximity, for instance, between wait-staff and customers. It also eliminated the touching of physical menus and the subsequent need for their physical cleaning. More interestingly, QR’s physical-to-digital bridge allowed menu content to be easily adjusted, highlighting specials, for instance, or subtracting items not available. This offered advantages over static, pre-printed menus.
While floor graphics and QR codes surely proved their mettle when the conditions of the last year made them profoundly useful, how will they fare when the pandemic is a distant speck in the Earth’s rear-view mirror? Part of this answer may come down to human behavior. Have the public and the purchasers of print become well-enough conditioned to grasp floor graphics as more than just another way to convey a marketing message? Similarly, have these same parties reached a sustainable measure of comfort with QR that the codes will remain a viable and useful option? Finally, what can, or will, graphics producers do to -- through creative thinking and effective sales approaches -- to maintain these applications moving forward?