When to add Limited or LTD to a logo?

The short answer is.. never. 

Why do some businesses have LTD or LIMITED as part of their logos, mainly the construction and trades industry? As a logo designer it is often unfortunate to be asked to retrofit this into a design - it always looks tacked on like an afterthought. I have been designing logos for more than 15 years and find that it's only ever the construction and trades industry that insist on this.

I always ask for the reason why they need to add the legal designation on their logo, and usually receive one of these 3 answers:

  1. I want people to know that we're a real company.
  2. Our lawyer said we have to.
  3. Everyone else does it.

Now, there is some basis for each of those reasons.

1. I want people to know that we're a real company. LTD is an abbreviation of Limited and all that means is that you are a Limited Liability Company. There are 3 types of companies in New Zealand; Limited, Co-Operative and Unlimited. Limited means that the shareholders are personally limited in their exposure to the companies financial obligations. This is by far the most common form of company. Co-operative companies exist for mutual support of all members and have different obligations in regards to their profits. For example; taxi businesses, dairy companies, Māori community services etc. Unlimited liability companies are rare - their shareholders personally have ultimate liability to all financial obligations of the company. This form exists to meet particular, usually foreign legal requirements. 

So in a sense, yes, displaying LTD or Limited does show that you are a 'real company.' But is it necessary to actually be on your logo? On your vehicle? On your building sign? The vast majority of businesses in NZ are limited, but you do not see LTD on every logo. Even within the construction industry itself; Hawkins, Fletcher, Naylor Love - none of them have LTD or Limited on their logos, but each will undoubtedly be a limited liability company. Why do the smaller players feel obliged to display this legal information so prominently? 

2. Our lawyer said we have to. From a legal perspective, you should have your full company name included on all financial and legal documentation such as invoices, contracts, tax returns and legal records. This is usually written above contact details, address and so on. However this is irrespective of the logo.

Historically, small start-up businesses would incorporate a company name - and then simply write it out in full. They wouldn't have a logo design - logos were just for big boys like Ford and Coca-Cola. Therefore, their full company name was it. 'Taylor & Sons LTD' written the same on everything from their shop sign to their invoices.

Logo sign with LTD

Now, lawyers are not particularly renowned when it comes to creative logos, branding and identities. Most of them continue the tradition of simply writing out their full company name. As an industry, lawyers, accountants and doctors have been a bit slow to come around to branding and identifying themselves creatively. So it comes as no surprise that advice from a lawyer in regards to a company logo is that it should be the full company name. 

lawyers logo

Yet you only need to look around at what some of the big players are doing. You won't see LTD, LLC, INC, PTY or any other legal descriptor abbreviation tacked alongside the Apple, Google or Twitter logos... in fact, they don't even use words at all anymore!


3. Everyone else does it. Again, there is basis for this as you do not have to look far to see a trades or building company with LTD or Limited on their logos and on their utes. Whilst most other industries have long since moved on from this. You are unlikely to see LTD added to logos for: florists, beauty clinics, clothing stores, cafes, restaurants or IT firms. 
For the trades and construction industry - the idea really only continues to exist due to the 2 points we have covered. In addition, a small start-up building company will see another small start-up building company and simply follow suit. As their business expands and professional marketing and design people become involved - their logo is soon separated from the full company name and these legal descriptor abbreviations are quickly dropped. 

construction logos

Summary. If you're starting out in business and incorporating a company. Yes, you should have your full company name on all official and financial documents. Your full company name will include the legal descriptor so that your position on liability is disclosed. Seeing this on an invoice does show that you are a real company. However, your logo has nothing to do with any of this. Take a look at any of the big national brands, none of them will include LTD in their logos. A Logo is a graphic to represent your company - it is not your legal company name. Your logo is a separate entity which can use your shortened name, your trading-as name, or maybe just a symbol - no name at all!

Think about your own personal name. If your name was Nicholas Charles-Lewis Desmond VIII then yes you would have to write this for all legal documents. But you do not have to write it all out in full every time you sign your name. So if you want to avoid this old-fashioned ticky-tacky look, leave your legal designation off your logo design. 

Posted in Branding, logo branding