“New York is unlike any market in the country,” Joe McMillan says as he sinks back into a sofa in the concrete-lined living space of 12 Warren, a new 12-story luxury condominium building in Tribeca. While the statement may seem like a no-brainer (after all, if you can make it here…), McMillan has spent the past eight years entrenched in the market, learning how to stand out in this most competitive field.

The unit where he’s sitting is part of the latest project developed, designed, built and managed by DDG, the “design-focused integrated real estate” company founded in 2009, and where he serves as CEO and Chairman. Since then, DDG has grown to 100 employees in offices in California, Florida and New York, and has developed a portfolio of residential and mixed-use projects in some of the most exclusive neighborhoods, from SoHo to Palm Beach.

Part of DDG’s success, McMillan explains, is its in-house attention to design, a process that starts with research into the neighborhood’s past to imagine how a building will fit into the streetscape today, as well as in the future to come. “You have many more eyes on your projects in New York than you do anywhere else in the country,” he says, which is why DDG’s focus on design begins at the street level, with distinctive facades like the bluestone of 12 Warren and 41 Bond, which is cut and laid out at an upstate quarry before being numbered and shipped to the site, or the cast-aluminum face of SoHo’s XOCO 325, which references the area’s historic buildings.

Today, McMillan says, buyers aren’t just looking for a good investment – though value remains the key driver – they’re also looking for a unique experience. That means staying true to certain signatures (rich materials, quality construction, design-driven details) while also cultivating distinctive features, including LEED certification and artistic collaborations, like the partnership with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and the Whitney Museum that transformed a building wrap into a temporary art exhibition. “We want to continue to help change the streetscape and the landscape for the positive, to do projects that are additive to the built environment,” McMillan says, “so when we all look back five, ten, twenty years from now, we can stop and say, ‘That’s a great building.’”