Hello there. I'm Steven Schirra.

I'm a UX researcher interested in building compelling mobile experiences.

I've spent the last six years working at the intersection of research and design to help create experiences in areas such as social media, digital games and urban planning. As a design researcher, I help product teams learn from their users to build compelling user-centered products and services.

My research projects have been featured in outlets such as the Boston Globe, PC Gamer, and Popular Science. My short documentary on the game A Slower Speed of Light became a viral hit on YouTube. I've been interviewed by EuroNews on the topic of serious game design, and in 2011, my research team was awarded Best Direct Impact Game by Games for Change.

I completed my graduate work at MIT's Department of Comparative Media Studies, where my research focused on human-computer interaction. In the past, I've worked as a researcher for Zynga Research, Microsoft Research New England's Social Media Collective, the Engagement Game Lab and the MIT Game Lab. I'm currently a user experience design researcher at Yahoo! Design Research in the Mobile & Emerging Products group. Want to connect? You can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter, or reach me via e-mail at schirra [the at sign] mit.edu.

Specialties: User experience research, design research, qualitative methods, human-computer interaction, mobile HCI, experience design, usability research

Articles and Conference Papers

Steven Schirra, Huan Sun and Frank Bentley. "Together Alone: Motivations for Live-Tweeting a Television Series." In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2014 (CHI ‘14). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2441-2450.

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Konstantin Mitgutsch, Steven Schirra, and Sara Verrilli. 2013. Movers and shakers: designing meaningful conflict in a tablet-based serious game. In CHI '13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 715-720.

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Eric Gordon and Steven Schirra. 2011. Playing with empathy: digital role-playing games in public meetings. In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T '11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 179-185.

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Eric Gordon, Steven Schirra, and Justin Hollander. 2011. Immersive Planning: A Conceptual Model for Designing Public Participation with New Technologies. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 38 (3), 505–519.

Book Chapters

Eric Gordon and Steven Schirra. 2014. "Game-based Civic Learning in Public Participation Processes.” Game-based Civic Learning in Public Participation Processes.” In Media Literacy Education in Action: Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 153–159.

Software Demonstrations (select)

Gerd Kortemeyer, Philip Tan, Steven Schirra. 2013. A Slower Speed of Light: Developing Intuition about Special Relativity with Games. Software demonstration presented at Foundations of Digital Games 2013 (FDG '13). Chania, Crete. [Extended Abstract]

Eric Gordon and Steven Schirra. May 2010. Participatory Chinatown. Software demonstration presented at HyperStudio's Humanities + Digital "Visual Interpretations" Conference. MIT. Cambridge, MA. [Poster]


"Immersive Planning Engagement Strategies." April 2011. Full-day workshop presented at the American Planning Association's 2011 National Planning Conference. Boston, MA.

“Chunwan is Family Time”: Microblogging on Sina Weibo during a Chinese Television Event

Jan 2013 - September 2013MIT // Co-Researcher

While many studies have explored how social media connects TV viewers with distant friends, little research has focused on how second-screen use affects viewers' social interactions with others watching TV in the same room. We studied this phenomenon in the Chinese context during Chunwan, a popular variety show airing on Chinese New Year, which is typically viewed as a family. Through an analysis of more than one million Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter) posts and 12 interviews with microbloggers, we found that many users skillfully manage their attention between online and face-to-face discussions and events. We also found that younger Weibo users often serve as go-betweens, bringing online information and chatter into face-to-face discussions with relatives.

Movers & Shakers

Jun 2012 - June 2013MIT Game Lab // Lead User Researcher & Co-Author

Movers and Shakers is a co-located, two-player tablet game that explores how subversive game design mechanics can foster meaningful conflict and dialogue. In a lab-based study, we tested the game with 20 users to see how the game facilitates problem-solving and conversation, and how players interpreted and understood the game's serious message about work ethics. In particular, this research addresses the design and evaluation of serious games and presents a novel interaction framework combining tablet computers, face-to-face interaction, and subversive game design.

A Slower Speed of Light

Jun 2012 - June 2013 MIT Game Lab // Researcher, Public Outreach

A Slower Speed of Light is a first-person game designed to help players develop an intuition about the effects of Einstein's special relativity. Within the game, players collect objects that reduce the speed of light close to the player's own walking pace, simulating (to vertex accuracy) relativistic phenomena such as the doppler effect, searchlight effect and Lorentz transformation. Along with the game, we have released OpenRelativity, an open-source relativistic toolkit for Unity3D to allow other designers to create experiences with these effects.

Community PlanIt

Jul 2010 - Aug 2011 Engagement Game Lab // Project Coordinator & Researcher

Community PlanIt is an online urban planning system that facilitates local participation in development and policy decision-making. A combination of social and game mechanics encourage rich community input that city planners can use and incorporate into future urban plans. I participated in all stages of the user-centered design process, from ideation to prototyping to field testing and deployment.

Participatory Chinatown

May 2009 - June 2010 Engagement Game Lab // Researcher & Designer

Participatory Chinatown is a 3D, multiplayer game designed to be played in the shared physical space of a town-hall meeting in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood. The goal of this project was to augment traditional meetings by bringing together a digital role-playing hame with face-to-face deliberation. As a member of the design team, I helped develop the game from pen-and-paper prototype to fully developed product. The game was included in an official community process in May 2010, where the meeting experience was held for two evenings (with 40 players/attendees at each meeting). Our user study examines how such digital games can affect the way people engage with community issues participate in a local decision-making processes.