Kadie Smith is truly a renaissance woman and modern pioneer. She is the creative and art director behind the recently launched Modern Huntsman magazine, a gorgeous publication aimed at restoring the perception of hunting. In addition to the magazine, Kadie also runs her own design firm and blog, Drop Cap Design where she strives to service and inspire fellow creative entrepreneurs. She has an incredible eye and a hardworking attitude. We sat down to ask her a few questions and to learn from her entrepreneurial journey.
Meet the Modern Pioneer: Kadie Smith of The Modern Huntsman
Today it seems like everything has gone digital, why did you decide to opt for the more traditional print magazine?
When thinking about a publication, I think it’s important to think about your readership. Where are they looking for inspiration and stories? What’s their lifestyle like? Where are they when they find themselves with some downtime to read? When considering these factors, we realized that a magazine about the outdoors couldn’t live primarily on a digital platform. It’s ironic because the concept of Modern Huntsman actually started on social media, but I think we all quickly realized that wasn’t the end goal. We needed a representation of the thoughts and feelings of an audience that was looking for a new voice in the industry, and that voice needed to be visible offline. We also felt like most hunting magazines had a lot of room to improve, and we wanted to raise the bar for the industry as a whole.
It was also an opportunity for us to be innovative in our approach to the editorial business model. Instead of relying on advertising dollars, we’ve created a system that operates on the support of our readers and brands who sponsor the content. We also capitalize on the influence of our contributors by paying them a percentage of sales on top of a fair editorial rate, which means that we’re able to support creative work in a way that the editorial industry has not been able to do in the past.
It also helped that I have a background in layout design and have worked on print publications in the past, so I was familiar with the process and eager to work on another publication project. It felt like an overall win-win.
How did the concept for this magazine come together and what makes it stand out in the field? Whose idea was it and what is your mission with it?
There’s a pretty long backstory for how the Instagram handle came about, but it became really interesting when the four of us (Brad Neathery, Elliott Hillock, Tyler Sharp, and I) sat down in a hotel lobby last summer and dreamed about what a company could really look like. It turns out we all brought complimenting strengths and an aligned vision that made this project take off. It was certainly a combined effort, but the core mission has always been to improve the perception of hunting and tell stories of what hunting is doing ecologically and ethically worldwide. There are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions that we wanted to shine a light on. We felt that there were more people on the same side, and there needed to be a common ground for honest conversations about hunting ethics, cultural traditions, and sustainably sourced food. By showing a more thoughtful, respectful, and sustainable side of the hunting narrative, we’re hoping that people will start to understand the reality of the situations, versus how it is often negatively portrayed in the news, and sensationalized headlines.
As for the visual concept, it came together pretty organically. There are so many talented people in the hunting space, but there wasn’t a centralized place for their work to be showcased. As we paired contributors and sorted through stories and content, we saw this beautiful narrative emerge from their combined submissions. It’s a testament to the fact that this is an age-old perspective that is being shown in a new context, palatable for people on both sides of the fence. My typography style is very classic and elegant, and my layout style is very open and minimal, which was the right direction to go in for the content. This could not have been a better combination of talents for issue one, and has set a very high standard for future issues.
What is the one perception about modern hunting you wish to change the most?
I have very close friends who are vegans because of the mistreatment of animals. I also have brothers and a dad who religiously hunt every season to fill our freezer. I care deeply about them all, and I see a lot of alignment between the two. The hunters I know have deep love and respect for wildlife and truly want to see animals thrive in their natural environments. They want wildlife to live healthy, abundant lives. My friends who are vegans want the same thing. If I can be a part of bridging the gap and helping each side understand the motivations of the other, I would consider that a success. The important factor here is education, so that people can start to further understand the role that hunting plays in conservation, cultural traditions, and even the subsistence of families, instead of viewing it as an ego-driven quest for conquest.
We know you are the only woman amongst a group of men at the magazine, are there any particular challenges you’ve found? What advice would you give to a woman starting out in a similar situation?
From the beginning, it was important to Brad, Elliott, and Tyler to have a strong feminine voice in this magazine. Hunting has typically been portrayed as a predominantly male industry, but there are women all over the world who go out into the field to hunt food for their families. We also wanted to steer very clear from the hunting-as-entertainment side of the industry, and the team felt that being very purposeful in hiring female contributors and having women on the team would hold the company accountable to the mission and tell a well-rounded and more honest story about what hunting looks like today.
My advice for women who find themselves as the only female voice on a team – offer your unique perspective! Your feminine view matters, and can often be imperative for variety when it comes to messaging, especially if you are the only female representation. I am so thankful that these guys saw how important it was to have a female voice on the team, and there are other industries who are trying to do the same thing – so it’s important to blaze the trail and honestly communicate your ideas and opinions to improve the industry as a whole by capturing the thoughts of an entire customer-base or audience.
How do you balance your role as creative director at the magazine with your responsibilities at your graphic design firm?
It’s interesting, because my boyfriend is actually the Creative Director and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine branch of the company, so we work together very closely on this project. With the first issue, we were figuring out the process, so it took a bit more time than we anticipated and we both had to work some late nights to meet our deadline. However, we also had to figure out how we were going to manage our working and romantic relationship. We did a pretty good job with this first issue, having times that we talked about the magazine and times that we shut off the computers and took a break. It can become all-consuming, and we have to be intentional that it doesn’t define our relationship or take over our time. But I think we’re doing a pretty good job of balancing that!
As for my design studio, it was a great opportunity for me to work on a project that resonated with a growing section of my audience demographic. There are a lot of companies who are trying to refresh their brand messaging to align with this holistic view of hunting and conservation. To be a part of a project that is directly impacting the industry gave me an opportunity to better understand the playing field and how I can best support my clients who are trying to move in a new direction. Branding is all about understanding the market landscape, and my experience with Modern Huntsman is giving me a comprehensive education in the outdoors and hunting space.
What is your biggest tip for brands trying to define their visual aesthetic?
Consistency is key! So many of my clients get so caught up in defining their unique style, that they forget how important it is to be visually consistent. The best thing you can do to build brand recognition is dive all the way into one visual style. Companies go through a rebrand multiple times throughout the life of the business, so it’s not like you find a style and it never gets refreshed. But when you’re constantly testing the waters and trying out different looks, it muddies the message and your audience has a hard time recognizing your work among the sea of visual information on the internet. It causes confusion, and if your customer is confused, they won’t trust your business, and ultimately they won’t buy.
My best advice? Start a Pinterest board for a few weeks. Pin everything that inspires you, and then go back and edit, edit, edit, until you’ve landed on a consistent series of visual examples that you can use as a foundation for your photography, graphics, colors, fonts, etc. I also have a free guide on my website to help you land on a message that will take you through the first season of your business (www.dropcapdesign.com/scratch-pad).
What is your number one productivity hack?
Oh gosh, I think I’ve tried pretty much every productivity tool out there. I’m naturally ambitious and can tend to be a workaholic, but it’s usually just busywork that I create for myself to avoid the things I really need to be doing. The most beneficial thing I’ve tried so far is to try to get my hardest tasks done before lunch (those things I am tempted to put off) and then leave my afternoon open for unexpected tasks or ideas. It’s so hard to just do the work, but it’s the simplest practice for me to stay focused and productive.
Are you yourself a hunter? And if so what is your most memorable hunt?
I’m actually not a hunter! I grew up with three brothers and a dad who were avid hunters, so our freezer was always full of venison and I never felt compelled to join them. It was more of a bonding opportunity for the guys, and I loved that they had that. But my boyfriend, Tyler Sharp, has inspired me to try it out and I think I’ll go on a bird hunt this fall. I’m a bit nervous, but I want to experience the feelings I read about in the magazine, and feel the sense of satisfaction that must come with harvesting your own wild food.
How have you approached defining the aesthetic of Modern Huntsman and how have you successfully sourced such high-quality photography?
I’m grateful to be a part of such a creative team. Brad Neathery is talented at visually curating a look, and he was primarily responsible for the early creative direction of the Modern Huntsman social media presence. Tyler rallied his contacts and friends in the industry to be the first contributors for issue one, and I have to say it is quite the group of talented photographers. I’ve had a hard time picking a favorite photo! As for the publication, I wanted to keep it classy with a modern, but timeless, feeling to it. I want these publications to be collected by our readers, and be a visual record of how this industry turns back to its roots. I’m extremely proud of this project and grateful to have worked with so many talented people to produce it.
What or who inspires you most?
I am most inspired by Tyler. He had a seven-year head start in the freelance industry and has encouraged me as I’ve matured into my role as a creative entrepreneur. He is incredibly focused and is able to carry out a very particular vision without straying from his original idea. That takes so much dedication and careful editing! It’s a huge inspiration to me as a creative. He’s always challenging me to push through my creative roadblocks and try new things. I’m very thankful for him, and excited to be working on this project together.
What do you do to get over a creative slump?
I love learning, and when I get in a creative slump I enjoy taking workshops and classes. There’s something about being a student that gives me the freedom to experiment and explore new ways of doing something. Even if it’s a simple workshop or something I know how to do very well, all it takes is a few hours of getting back to the basics to inspire a world of possibilities. But if I’m really needing to feel inspired immediately, I usually listen to podcasts. I love Amy Porterfield’s “Marketing Made Easy” or even biography podcasts like “Making Oprah.”