Back to the drawing board


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Back to the drawing board'?

Other phrases:

Start again on a new design or plan after the failure of an earlier attempt.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Back to the drawing board'?

This term has been used since WWII as a jocular acceptance that a design has failed and that a new one is needed. It gained common currency quite quickly and began appearing in US newspapers by 1947, as here in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Washington, December 1947:

“Grid injuries for the season now closing suggest anew that nature get back to the drawing board, as the human knee is not only nothing to look at but also a piece of bum engineering.”

It was well-enough known by 1966 for it to be used as a title for an episode in the ‘Get Smart’ TV series, and has also been used as the title of several books.

A drawing board is, of course, an architect’s or draughtsman’s table, used for the preparation of designs or blueprints.

The phrase originated as the caption to a cartoon produced by Peter Arno (Curtis Arnoux Peters, Jr.), for the New Yorker magazine, in 1941. The cartoon shows various military men and ground crew racing toward a crashed plane, and a designer, with a roll of plans under his arm, walking away saying, “Well, back to the old drawing board”.

Trend of back to the drawing board in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.