Install the development version with:

# install.packages("remotes")


There are two intermixing goals for edibble:

  • defining the grammar of experimental design, and
  • provide an R-package that aids in the workflow of constructing an experimental design and serves as an implementation of the so-called grammar of experimental design.

The grammar of experimental design is a framework that functionally maps the fundamental components of an experiment to an object oriented system to build and modify the experimental design. Some (work-in-progress) details can be found in vignette("grammar") where it is serving as the dumping ground of my thoughts for now. The use of the word “grammar” pay homage to the grammar of graphics and grammar of data manipulation which this work is heavily inspired from.

Experimental data

tidyverse is well suited for the data science project workflow as illustrated below in (B) (from Grolemund and Wickham 2017). For experimental data, the statistical aspect begins before obtaining data as depicted below in (A). The focus of edibble is to facilitate work in (A).

The edibble R-package differ considerably to other packages for constructing experimental design with a focus on the whole process and less on the randomisation process (which the other software generally focus and do well on). Some features include:

  • declaratively create experimental designs based on experimental components (e.g. units and treatments),
  • explicitly specify variables that are to be recorded (e.g. response), and
  • set expected values for variables to be recorded which restrict the data entry when the design is exported as an xlsx file,
  • plot and print outputs for intermediate constructs of the experimental design with configurations for most graphical elements (see vignette("output")),
  • make classical named designs (see vignette("named-designs")),
  • add context that also serves as notes about experiment (see vignette("edibble")).

Designing the whole experiment

An experiment is likely to involve a number of people. For simplicity, let’s suppose there are three actors (we’ll use the pronoun them/they for each actor):

  • the domain expert 🕵️‍♀️ drives the experimental objective and has the intricate knowledge about the subject area,
  • the statistician 👩🏻‍💻 creates the design layout that contains the treatment-to-unit allocations after taking into account the statistical and practical constraints,
  • the technician 👨‍🔬 carries out the experiment and collects the data.

The actors are purely illustrative. In practice, multiple people can take on each role, one person can take on multiple roles, and/or a person in the role may not specialise in that role (i.e. a statistician role can be acted out by a non-statistician).

An experiment may begin with no data at all. The domain expert comes up with the experimental hypothesis or question and recruit a statistician to help design the experiment. Before a statistician can produce the design layout, they must converse with the domain expert to understand the experimental objective, resources, practical constraints and other possible nuances that might influence the outcome of the experiment. This consultation phase an important information collection.

With edibble, the functions resemble a natural language that you may have in a consultation phase. You may take notes of context using set_context(); you write down what and how many units and treatments you have available using set_units() and set_trts(); you enquire about if there are any restrictions in allocation of treatments and set them using allocate_trts(); you may ask what responses are measured or what records will be kept and set them using set_rcrds(); you can solicit expected values for these records and encode them using expect_rcrds(). The last point is important to minimise the error in the data entry process. If the technician enters an invalid entry, then an error is produced. This concept is illustrated below using a UML sequence diagram.


Consider an experiment where you want to know what is an effective way of teaching (flipped or traditional style) for teaching a particular subject and how different forms of exams (take-home, open-book or closed-book) affect student’s marks.

There are four classes for this subject with each class holding 30 students. The teaching style can only be applied to the whole class but exam can be different for individual students.



des <- start_design(name = "Effective teaching") %>%
    set_units(class = 4,
              student = nested_in(class, 30)) %>%
    set_trts(style = c("flipped", "traditional"),
             exam = c("take-home", "open-book", "closed-book")) %>%
    allocate_trts(style ~ class,
                  exam ~ student) %>%

#> # An edibble: 120 x 4
#>        class     student       style        exam
#>    <unit(4)> <unit(120)>    <trt(2)>    <trt(3)>
#>  1    class1   student1  traditional take-home  
#>  2    class1   student2  traditional take-home  
#>  3    class1   student3  traditional open-book  
#>  4    class1   student4  traditional take-home  
#>  5    class1   student5  traditional closed-book
#>  6    class1   student6  traditional closed-book
#>  7    class1   student7  traditional closed-book
#>  8    class1   student8  traditional open-book  
#>  9    class1   student9  traditional take-home  
#> 10    class1   student10 traditional take-home  
#> # … with 110 more rows

Before constructing the experiment, you might want to think about what you are recording for which level of unit and what values these variables can be recorded as.

out <- des %>% 
    set_rcrds(student = c(exam_mark,
              class = c(room,
                        teacher)) %>%
    expect_rcrds(exam_mark = to_be_numeric(with_value(between = c(0, 100))),
                quiz1_mark = to_be_integer(with_value(between = c(0, 15))),
                quiz2_mark = to_be_integer(with_value(between = c(0, 30))),
                    gender = to_be_factor(levels = c("female", "male", "non-binary", "unknown")),
                   teacher = to_be_character(length = with_value("<=", 100)),
                      room = to_be_character(length = with_value(">=", 1))) %>% 

#> # An edibble: 120 x 10
#>        class     student       style        exam exam_mark quiz1_mark quiz2_mark
#>    <unit(4)> <unit(120)>    <trt(2)>    <trt(3)>    <rcrd>     <rcrd>     <rcrd>
#>  1    class1   student1  traditional take-home           ■          ■          ■
#>  2    class1   student2  traditional take-home           ■          ■          ■
#>  3    class1   student3  traditional open-book           ■          ■          ■
#>  4    class1   student4  traditional take-home           ■          ■          ■
#>  5    class1   student5  traditional closed-book         ■          ■          ■
#>  6    class1   student6  traditional closed-book         ■          ■          ■
#>  7    class1   student7  traditional closed-book         ■          ■          ■
#>  8    class1   student8  traditional open-book           ■          ■          ■
#>  9    class1   student9  traditional take-home           ■          ■          ■
#> 10    class1   student10 traditional take-home           ■          ■          ■
#> # … with 110 more rows, and 3 more variables: gender <rcrd>, room <rcrd>,
#> #   teacher <rcrd>

When you export the above edibble design using the export_design function, the variables you are recording are constraint to the values you expect, e.g. for factors, the cells have a drop-down menu to select from possible values.

export_design(out, file = "/PATH/TO/FILE.xlsx")

In addition, there is a spreadsheet for every observational level. E.g. here room and teacher is the same for all students in one class so rather than entering duplicate information, these are exported to another sheet for data entry.

There is also support for more complex nesting structures however randomisation is yet to be supported for this. You can always make the structure using edibble and take the resulting data frame to use in other experimental design software. It’s also possible to bring existing data frame into edibble if you want to take advantage of the exporting feature in edibble.

start_design("nesting structure") %>% 
  # there are 3 sites labelled A, B, C
  set_units(site = c("A", "B", "C"),
            # each site has 2 blocks except B with 3 sites
            block = nested_in(site, 
                              "B" ~ 3,
                                . ~ 2),
            # levels can be specified by their number instead
            # so for below "block1" has 30 plots, 
            # "block2" and "block3" has 40 plots,
            # the rest of blocks have 20 plots.
            plot = nested_in(block, 
                              1 ~ 30,
                        c(2, 3) ~ 40,
                              . ~ 20)) %>% 
#> # An edibble: 190 x 3
#>         site     block        plot
#>    <unit(3)> <unit(7)> <unit(190)>
#>  1         A    block1      plot1 
#>  2         A    block1      plot2 
#>  3         A    block1      plot3 
#>  4         A    block1      plot4 
#>  5         A    block1      plot5 
#>  6         A    block1      plot6 
#>  7         A    block1      plot7 
#>  8         A    block1      plot8 
#>  9         A    block1      plot9 
#> 10         A    block1      plot10
#> # … with 180 more rows


Currently, edibble:

  • expects you to know the number of units available from the start. Unknown numbers will be supported in future versions.
  • does not support designs where the size of the block is less than the total number of treatments (e.g. incomplete block designs or fractional factorial designs). This is to come.
  • does not necessarily create the most efficient design. E.g. balanced incomplete block designs have a special property and an adhoc solution may be required to make sure you can generate a design with this special property. This is just a nature of generalised tools and edibble doesn’t aim to be the best for everything, but hopes others developers can build on the edibble framework to create their own specialist design.
  • in theory, edibble should support experiments that are not comparative experiments but this is not tested.
  • does not do enough testing so design should be diagnosed after construction (which should be done regardless of how much testing edibble implements).


edibble is hugely inspired by the work of Tidyverse Team. I’m grateful for the dedication and work by the Tidyverse Team, as well as R Development Core Team that supports the core R ecosystem, that made developing this package possible.

Tidyverse familiarity

The implementation in edibble adopt a similar nomenclature and design philosophy as tidyverse (and where it does not, it’s likely my shortcoming) so that tidyverse users can leverage their familiarity of the tidyverse language when using edibble. Specifically, edibble follows the philosophy:

  • main functions do one thing and have a consistent form of <verb>_<noun> (e.g. set_units and record_vars) where the nouns are generally plural. Exceptions are when the subject matter is clearly singular (e.g. start_design and set_context);
  • pipable functions;
  • all dots arguments are dynamic dots;
  • duplicate names repaired with same option as tibble for additions to edibble graph;
  • ability for developers to extend certain components. Currently only supported for others to contribute their own classical named experimental designs via prep_classical_;
  • the specification of complex nested structure drawing similarity to dplyr::case_when (LHS is character or integer for edibble however).

Code of Conduct

Please note that the edibble project is released with a Contributor Code of Conduct. By contributing to this project, you agree to abide by its terms.