SIME Darby Property Bhd has always prided itself on its ability to build sustainable developments.

As sustainability is key to all its products and business operations, it is no surprise that it has come up with its own design guidelines — Urban Design Guideline, Built Form Guideline and Technical Guideline — to deliver the company’s objectives.

According to Marina Chung, head of product development, the Urban Design Guideline is large scale, while the Built Form Guideline focuses on the products, complementing the former. The third and more specific guide is the standard used to describe the modular and spatial requirements that Sime Darby Property has for all its products.

Sime Darby Property’s brand values were taken into consideration, as the guidelines were created to work in tandem with it, says Chung. “They encapsulate the core values of the company’s products — quality, innovative design focusing on family needs, safety and security, environmental sustainability and good investment.”

These values are underpinned by the company’s vision, heritage, integrity, reliability and concern for the environment. These are the primary drivers of all its designs, plans, decisions and actions.

Chung says the brand values connect the company with its customers, thereby solidifying loyalty to its brand. “This confirms the credibility in our delivery of products and services, as customers are assured of quality and value creation.

“The intrinsic values aim to enrich lifestyles, and stimulate economic as well as social growth, against a backdrop of sustainability. This winning formula has been consistent with strategic designs, quality and our focus on customer satisfaction.”

Chung adds that the design guidelines are a manual for Sime Darby’s consultants, vendors and suppliers.

“One of the innovations we introduced recently is in the kitchen,” she says. “We went back to the principle of what the kitchen is to the house, to approach its design and layout.”

Chung says Sime Darby Property understood that the kitchen is where the family and visitors congregate, so it brought the kitchen forward instead of hiding it in the back of the house.

“This addresses the community and social building aspect,” she points out. “It fosters family ties and encourages social interaction. This is one example of how the guidelines and product innovation are manifested in Sime Darby Property’s brand values.”

However, the guidelines are not the answer to everything — they are merely a benchmark to ensure the company has quality designs across all its products, regardless of location or price point.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re paying for a high-end luxury product, or an affordable one. The guidelines apply across the board, so there is consistency,” Chung remarks.

She says the minimum standard of an affordable home is similar to that of a luxury unit. “The specifications of the tiles, however, will obviously vary due to the price. But in terms of design quality and space allocation, it would be equal.”

The specification standards have stipulated a minimum dimension across all of Sime Darby Property’s products. For example, there is no small common bathroom on the ground floor, which gives you the feeling of inferiority when purchasing an affordable product.

She says when the guidelines were introduced two years ago, they were implemented in all of Sime Darby Property’s products, regardless of market demand.

“The guidelines respond to our brand values. Whether the market is volatile or doing well, the guidelines still apply.”

Products in which the guidelines are used include Elmina — a 5,000-acre regional grouping of townships. Located along the Guthrie Corridor Expressway, it commands a gross development value of more than RM25 billion, and is expected to take 10 to 18 years to complete.

“We believe when designing a product using the guidelines, the house is not a standalone element. It is part of the big picture. The house sits on a street, which makes up a network for the community. It doesn’t matter what type of development it is — township, building, integrated or industrial — the guidelines apply across the board,” Chung explains.

Members of the design team gave themselves nine months to prepare the guidelines. However, they did not wait until they had written the guidelines before applying them.

“The guidelines were already in application before we wrote the documents. The documents merely formalised them,” Chung points out.

Since the guidelines were implemented, both cost efficiency and time quality have improved, she notes. “With the guidelines, we now know what our minimum target is, and we can work more efficiently and effectively, which means our products will be better-designed.”

Chung and her team are constantly reviewing the guidelines and are currently working on the second edition.

“We are always looking to improve the guidelines and identify any changes that need to be formalised,” she says.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Aug 19-25, 2013.