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A visualization is considered to be expressive if the relevant information of a dataset (and only this) is expressed by the visualization. The term "relevant" implies that expressiveness of a visualization can only be assessed regarding a particular user working with the visual representation to achieve certain goals.
Expressiveness criteria identify graphical languages that express the desired information. […] A set of facts is expressible in a language if it contains a sentence that (1) encodes all the facts in the set, (2) encodes only the facts in the set.
[Mackinlay, 1986]

A visualization is said to be expressive if and only if it encodes all the data relations intended and no other data relations.
[Card, 2008, p. 523]

Don Norman calls this "Appropriateness principle" in [Norman, 1993]:

Appropriateness principle: The representation used by the artifact should provide exactly the information acceptable to the task: neither more nor less.
[Norman, 1993]

see also: Effectiveness, Appropriateness


  • [Card, 2008] Stuart Card, Information visualization, in A. Sears and J.A. Jacko (eds.), The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies, and Emerging Applications, Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc, 2007.
  • [Mackinlay 1986] Jock Mackinlay. Automating the Design of Graphical Presentations of Relational Information. ACM Transactions on Graphics, 5(2):110-141, 1986.
  • [Norman, 1993] Norman, Donald. Things That Make Us Smart, Addison Wesley. 1993, p. 97
  • [Schumann and Müller, 2000] Heidrun Schumann and Wolfgang Müller, Visualisierung - Grundlagen und allgemeine Methoden. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2000.
  • [Tominski, 2006] Christian Tominski, Event-Based Visualization for User-Centered Visual Analysis, PhD Thesis, Institute for Computer Science, Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Rostock, 2006.