The most common mistake campaigns make when designing a yard sign is adding too much stuff. Your average voter doesn’t spend more than a few seconds looking over a direct mail piece, so imagine how little time that same voter spends on reading a campaign sign.

We typically don’t expect folks to get much out of a yard sign except for some increased name identification for the candidate, which brings us to the question of adding so-called Quick Response barcodes to campaign signage. Some strategists have suggested it’s time these black boxes become a requirement, just like having the candidate’s name and the office he’s running for.

More often than not, though, QR codes will simply add clutter and are not useful to the campaign. I will hedge a bit here and add that good designers can incorporate QR codes into the design of a sign in a way that doesn’t detract significantly from the candidate’s name and the office he’s seeking—the most critical elements of any campaign lawn sign.

Speaking generally, however, political campaigns are quickly adopting QR codes for good reason. The growth rate for the codes is astounding. In the summer of 2008, only 10 percent of the population had a smartphone. One presidential election later, the number of people using smartphones has quintupled to more than half of the U.S. population. Of smartphone users, a full one third of them have scanned QR codes.

When QR Codes Work: There are, as always, some cases where using QR codes on a lawn sign does make sense. For instance, there’s promise for their use in districts where voters will engage yard signs not from the inside of their vehicles but instead as pedestrians. While it goes without saying, voters passing by a yard sign on foot are much more likely to scan a QR code than someone who has to pull over the to the side of the road. Candidates who are running in districts with walkable communities will have the most success with QR codes on signs.

Other examples of districts where signs are well suited for QR codes include those with large populations of younger voters and where the technology sector is a large employer. Still, I recommending testing the assumption. Try putting a QR code on a flyer or on an introductory mail piece and track how many voters scan the code. Based on the results of your test, you will be able to base your decision to put QR codes on the candidate's yard signs on data, not conjecture.

The QR Code Call to Action: If your test confirms that using a QR code on your campaign yard sign is worthwhile, make sure you’re getting the most out of the QR code by sending the voter to appropriate content. Just linking to the campaign website isn't effective. Some of the best uses of QR codes on campaign yard signs:

  • Connecting the voter to the candidate's social media networks on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Signing up the voter for text message or email alerts from the campaign.
  • Asking the voter to indicate whether he is a supporter or not.
  • Sending the voter to a biographical or issue-based video of the candidate or a mobile optimized landing page with similar content.

It's also important to note that whatever content the QR code is linking to should be relevant to voters whether it's three days or three months before Election Day.

Other High Tech Options for Campaign Signs: In addition to QR codes, you can make the humble yard sign high tech in other ways. Simply putting a pound sign before the candidates name turns it into a Twitter hashtag and signals to Twitter users they should use it in their tweets. If you add social media buttons, such as Facebook's like button, to the yard signs without detracting from the candidate's name and desired office in a way that voters will be able to see, that's an element that will also increase awareness of the candidate's social media presence.

Ben Donahower is an experienced campaign operative who writes about campaign signs. Some candidates get advice about campaigns signs from a printer, but Ben makes campaign yard sign recommendations rooted in political principles.