One of my favorite questions to ask of designers is “what are you working on?” This is more specific than the more usual “what do you do” — which often leads to dry, rehearsed answers — but broad enough so they don’t feel they need to betray confidences.
Most folks answer with a high-level take on what they do. For example, a person could say she’s working on a healthcare app. Some get a bit more specific; for example, the person could say she’s working on a medical app to help cancer patients monitor their treatment.
The types of answers I get vary depending on whether the designer works independently or as part of a team in an organization. Freelancers and consultants move from project to project, so they tend to have a shorter sense of what “now” means; whereas internal designers are usually part of longer-term efforts.
Another distinction is in the degree to which the person thinks about his or her work as being transformational. The ones who’ve found a way to connect their work with their values are often more enthusiastic, and tend to have a higher-level take on the work. For example, the person could say she’s relieving suffering in cancer patients. (This level of engagement is what I aspire to.)
What about you? What are you working on?