Sorry, QR code, it’s not you .. it’s me

QR code – speaking as a heritage interpreter, I think our relationship is ending, or at least changing. The honeymoon is over as far as I’m concerned. You’ve got to do a lot more to pull your weight if we’re going to hang out together in the future.

So where are you taking me?  Is it worth it? Do I care?

So where are you taking me? Is it worth it? Do I care?

Firstly, QR code, I accuse you and, more so, your minions, of seducing us away from what we know. I think you have encouraged us back to bad ol’ interpretive habits.

We know most people don’t want to read a lot of stuff when they are visiting heritage sites. A few years, we interpretive writers sorted out that interpretive panels, for instance, were not an excuse to put a book on the wall or a stick. A panel is a highly disciplined piece of communication involving writing and pictures that has to be well designed, snappily written and to the point (see here, here and here). Otherwise people won’t read it.

 Having writing and pictures (hopefully) on a tiny, weeny screen that reflects light doesn’t change that. Especially if no one has thought about what the content looks like on a small screen. Your advocates who talk about the squillions of trillions of mega giga bytes of stuff that visitors can access are completely missing the point.  Interpreters know visitors want engagement , experience, relationship, understanding. 

I have seem some shocking stuff hidden behind QR codes.  It seems rather like back in the 1970s when (maybe) we didn’t know better and wrote way too much.  Bigger is not better when it comes to information in interpretation.

Okay I hear you – people can read this when they get back home. Of course they can. Show me evidence that they do.

What I am really interested in, however, is interpretation that gives people a better, bigger, deeper, more meaningful visit while they are on site. At the place where it matters. As part of a first hand direct experience.

The thing is, I think, if you were so minded, you could help with this.  You are a lot less ‘shouty’ than a panel. I warmed to you at first because of that. It seemed we could work together to remove clutter, to make information more of an option than an intrusion. You still have that potential.

Yes, you're easy - but that doesn't make you worthwhile.

Yes, you’re easy – but that doesn’t make you worthwhile.

But you let me down.   You can be clunky and unreliable. You’re often slow: you don’t like shadows. Or cow poo (okay I forgive that, me neither!). You need people to get really close to you before you’ll tell them anything.  It’s not all your fault, of course, sometimes we’ve tried it in the wrong places and there just wasn’t a strong enough connection; I can’t blame you for that. My fault.

QR codes may be an answer  but not an easty one (thanks to Dan Boys of AudioTrails for this image)

QR codes may be an answer but not an easy one (thanks to Dan Boys of AudioTrails for this image)

The trouble is that, now I know you better, I think that even that unobtrusiveness that I was so attracted to, is a bit of a problem. You’re dowdy, mate. Look at you. We’re trying to attract people’s attention here – to lure them into this lovely stuff that will enhance their visit. Your black and white non-representational look may go down well with geeks, but for the rest of us it says nothing. You need a decent interpreter to give you a makeover, to sell you better, to add the wink and sparkle. Maybe we can make you smile. That would be nice.  Its great to see our friend and associate, Dan Boys giving you good attention. You need it.

But I’m still not sure. People are beginning to lose interest. I’ve noticed the Sunday supplements – you were all over them not so long ago – are giving you the cold shoulder now. Feels like you may be out in the cold.

There you are, lurking in the corner - but you're losing your claim to that place.

There you are, lurking in the corner – but you’re losing your claim to that place.

The word on the street is that you are ‘a hassle’, ‘a bit pointless’, ‘never lead to anywhere I want to go’.

It’s time for change, my friend. Or maybe a parting of the ways.   You see, there are lots of things we can do with our smart phones on heritage and wildlife sites. You might be the oldest but I’m not sure you’re our best option. We’re looking at this (especially in a project I am working on with RSPB) – maybe we can give you the revamp we need. Maybe not.

Of course, if this is the end, it doesn’t mean the time we’ve had together was a waste. Far from it. I think we’ve learned a lot. I hope I’m now more understanding of digital interpretation.  I’m excited by it and will be playing the field a bit. You’ve helped me see what I want and what I, and more importantly our visitors, need from guys like you. When the next new medium comes along, I’m ready.