We’re kicking off our 2018 Leaders & Influencers series with Barbara Gulten and Eliana Stein, co-founders of newly launched Functionaire, a boutique UX design and strategy firm.


Tell us about Functionaire.

Barbara:  Functionaire is a boutique product strategy and user experience design firm. We work with clients who operate in the digital landscape, be it through a website, mobile app, medical device, wearable, or internet-connected appliance.

Eliana:  We want to create a holistic, useful, and useable experience for our clients and their customers. We’re niche—we don’t write the code or build the software. We’re experts at UX.

Tell us about your clients—is there anyone who is too big or small to work with Functionaire?

­­­Barbara:  We don’t think there’s anyone too big or too small; we cover a lot of different verticals. Our current roster includes everything from established startups and ecommerce to Fortune 500 companies. We’re energized and excited about all our clients and projects. Regardless of size, we’re happy to form a partnership.

Eliana:  We’re happy to work with clients and their teams regardless of size. With smaller companies, we might be the only UX resource. At larger companies, often we collaborate with marketing, technology, and their internal UXers.

How did the two of you meet, and why was now the right time to launch your business?
Eliana Stein

Eliana Stein

Eliana:  We met at Shopbop, when I began working there in 2011. I came on board and saw the work Barbara was doing as challenging, interesting, and impactful, and it became very clear to me where my work with her could have a measureable impact on the business. Working there together for several years, we went through sprints and marathons.

Barbara:  Fast forward to 2017, I decided to forge my own path after a long career with Shopbop and Amazon. I took some time to travel, which I’m also passionate about. Eliana and I had always been in touch and appreciated one another’s work. We share working styles and a common philosophy on the customer experience. I knew she also had envisioned starting her own business. We met up one day and it was just evident that we should start this business together.

Barbara Gulten

Barbara Gulten

Eliana:  The timing for the business has been great. We’re lucky that, right now, UX is becoming more and more well understood. For example, you can’t open an issue of Fast Company without reading something about UX.

Barbara:  Yes, as companies mature, they start understanding there are only so many differentiators they can rely on. UX is a major one.

What sets Functionaire apart?

Eliana:  We’re data-driven, both in terms of quantitative and qualitative research. Looking at big data or metrics alone doesn’t tell you why your customers are behaving the way they are. Both the quantitative and qualitative are needed. We believe we can deliver something great and collaborate with clients to make their own customers happy. We don’t just throw things over the wall; we partner for the long run because we know things change in the life of a project.

Barbara:  We really believe in problem-solving. But that begins by working from the customer, not just working from the problem you think you have. We discover for our clients and their customers the pertinent questions they likely haven’t been asking. We offer an outside perspective, clarity, and sanity because we can look at the problem from a different angle. We have well-seasoned experience working in UX, and we’re not afraid to ask the tough questions. Our approach is to pick apart the problem and what is really being asked of us. We try to deliver as much innovation and foresight as possible. We can absolutely deliver just the expected, but we strive to deliver the unexpected.

What recent UX developments are most exciting to you?

Barbara:   We’re really energized and interested in some of the new digital topics. For the last 20 years or so, digital interactions have been fairly flat—via desktops, tablets, and phones. In the last 2-3 years, we’ve been talking more about AI, voice, image, and other modes of interaction, which are part of the bigger holistic UX that all of us as humans are beginning to use with devices, in our homes and cars.

Why is Madison a great place for Functionaire? 

Eliana:  Given how totally feasible remote work is today, there’s a real opportunity for someone like me to take advantage of Madison. As someone who lived in the Bay Area, I still get to work with clients in Silicon Valley, but enjoy the quality of life in Madsion.

Barbara:  I love Madison as a home base. There’s a small but exciting tech scene in Madison—and we’re happy to be part of it and excited to see it grow.


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