Problems. And a passionate desire to improve upon problems found anywhere.
But to elaborate more on that…I think there are at least two (and certainly more…coming soon!) critical factors that shape the kind of designer you are.
1. The questions: Do you like to ask questions about the user? About the technology? About the business? Ideally all of them, but I’m betting that some designers are more naturally inclined in one orientation than others, which is fine. Also, do you like to ask tactical questions of construction and production primarily? Or more strategic questions about the product lifecyle, platform, ecosystem, etc. Or perhaps conceptual questions proposing hypotheticals, that drive research imperatives and foresight activities?
Just as Trinity told Neo in the nightclub in The Matrix: “It’s the question that drives you.” So what question burns in your mind? That more than likely shapes type of designer you are or strive to be.
2. The artifacts: What do you like to make? What artifacts from the design process do you naturally gravitate towards or have affinity for? Do you like the flows, diagrams, models, and maps? Or getting into the pixels and code? Or maybe somewhere between? Hopefully not excel spreadsheets! :-)
3. (possibly third one) Users/domains: What kind of domains and situations and users do you like to design for? Enterprise? Consumer? Mobile? Medical? Again, no right answers, just something to reflect on for yourself in terms of what challenges you as a designer and gets you excited, what you naturally gravitate towards, and keeps you thriving.