David Verweij

Phone Grown

Phone Grown is an open-source, DIY tutorial that helps families transform an unused smartphone into an ambient information display. It is built on a Google Sheet template, which acts as the database and user interface. With the database 'exposed', families can configure rules and design visual outputs for your phone to respond with any incoming data. Using pen and paper, they can contextualise these visual outputs further to suit your needs. With this tutorial, I explored how we can involve and empower families in the development of future Internet of Things (IoT) products and scenarios.


A Google Sheet template with a document-bound script contains a few predefined formulas and methods. Once deployed, your copy of the Sheet (and script) gives you a personal API. A phone can then connect to that Sheet through that API. Using existing web services (e.g. IFTTT.com), numerous data sources can be hooked up to the Sheet. Based on your rules set in the UI, a flag will be set on a secure external database. The phone, which is listening to this flag, will request new instructions and output the visual design on screen - providing a push notification-like service.


This project continues the research from the Domestic Widgets, which are both part of my PhD. I iteratively designed the Google Sheet template and developing the communication protocol to provide a seamless connection between the phone and incoming data sources. I additionally developed the tutorial with feedback from pilot runs, which is now published on Instructables.com.


  • Serverless back end (Google App Script - JavaScript),
  • Anonymous database (Cloud Firestore - NoSQL),
  • UI Design (Google Sheets),
  • Mobile Web application (Javascript, HTML, CSS)


Project Website, Tutorial on Instructables.com, Code repository, Academic proposition paper