Back To The Drawing Board


The phrase back to the drawing board means to start over again because a plan failed to come together; going back to square one.

This expression describes an idea that went wrong and it’s implied that changes are needed if success is to be found the next time.

Example: My sink has been leaking lately, so I thought I would use what little plumbing knowledge I have to try and fix it. After several failed attempts, I think it’s time for me to go back to the drawing board to figure out what I’m doing wrong… or maybe I should just call an actual plumber instead.

Synonyms / Similar Phrases:

1. Back to square one
2. Back to where we started

Going back to the drawing board. / Paul Bradbury

The Origin of ‘Back To The Drawing Board’

The Idea Behind ‘Back To The Drawing Board’

Before starting a project, someone may decide to use a drawing board (or architect’s table) to design it first. Writing down details and creating a basic outline of things beforehand can be very helpful indeed. It’s like making a blueprint.

For example, what would an architect do before making a house? Likely, he/she would use a drawing board to first plan its measurements. They could also work on how they want the overall interior of the home to look like, such as the layout and placement of each room. Using a drawing board helps the architect get a clearer idea on how the house should look once it’s finished. Then, if anything goes wrong during construction, the designer could go back to the drawing board—the place where their plans first began! From there, they could make any modifications or improvements to their original design.

The Origin

The origin of this phrase is believed to come from an American artist named Peter Arno. He wrote a cartoon for the New Yorker in 1941. The cartoon shows a crashed plane, and there’s a man dressed in a suit walking away from the crash site, saying:

“Well, back to the drawing board.”

This implies the man in the suit designed the plane and things went seriously wrong. Hopefully his next attempt will go more smoothly!

Example Sentences: Back To The Drawing Board

  • After a month on this new diet, I still weigh the same as I did before. I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me.
  • The wheels do not spin properly on the miniature race car I made, so it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Note: Sometimes, a phrase’s origin is not known. When that happens, I’ll usually include any explanations or theories that talk about where the expression comes from. If no plausible sounding theory exists, then at the very least, the earliest known quote of the idiom in print should be included on the page. This can give you an idea on how old the idiom is.