Fantastic Barcodes, and Where to Find Them

Molding your barcode with a clever image, sometimes called a “vanity barcode”, is an excellent way to turn a mundane product requirement into a positive experience for users. Consumers appreciate it when they see creativity. Unexpected surprise further enhances this.

A collection of examples of creative barcodes

Artistic barcodes are rare in some markets (the US included), but more popular in others, like the Asian market where cuteness is far more rewarded. Even then it’s still rare, and most products are missing out on this opportunity to let the brand personality shine. They’re rare. Really rare. I’ve only noticed it a handful of times in my life, and have been actively collecting photos of creative barcodes I see in the wild and online, but after over a decade have just a few.

My favorite, and by far the most clever and cute. Behance: Penélope Lira

I have too smaller sample size with which to notice any trends, but I would argue most products should consider this, no matter how “low involvement” the product category is. Low involvement items entail minimal consideration since they do not affect buyer’s lifestyle and are not a significant investment. Often cheap or impulse buys.

This is yet another way marketers and branding experts overlook anything that isn’t the front of packaging. We spend so much time thinking about catching the eye and making the sale, we spend so little time on the subtleties involved in the handling of a product when deciding to make a sale, or the post-sales use of a product. Back of pack labels are marketing too.

Vanity barcodes are low risk too. The creation and design cost is minimal and good designs are scanned by barcode readers fine. The exception would be how German low-end supermarkets like Lidl have massive repeating barcodes to assist with quicker and easier self-checkouts. There’s no real risk of consumer backlash either.

Furthermore, little originality is required. I saw several examples of the fork with noodles, tractor/mower, wheat tips, fruit/vegetable shapes, and bottle shapes. While difficult to trademark a barcode shape, a brand’s consistent barcode theme could give it a temporary advantage while competitors catch up and copy them. (Stay tuned for an article on “category cues.”)


Where to find examples of products in the wild

For this post I wanted photos of examples, as I have above. A Google image search for creative OR unusual barcodes shows almost entirely concepts, but few photos of products in the wild.

A Google web search mostly links to galleries with the same problem. Design house vanitybarcodes.com has dozens of designs in their gallery, but only three of their designs are currently in use.

Google Image Search results. All but one are of designs, not photos on real world products.

A Pinterest search fared better, and had some truly amazing and creative designs (seriously, check them out), but was mostly the same. (Searches for creative barcode and unusual barcode had more relevant results.)

So where is the biggest trove of photos of creative barcodes on actual products available in the real world? Why, a search in reddit.com/r/mildlyinteresting of course (made easier to view with RES browser extension).

This Reddit submission was titled “Why don’t more companies get this creative with Barcodes?” I couldn’t agree more.