Back to the Drawing Board (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Back to the Drawing Board"?

The term "back to the drawing board" means to return to the start when an attempt fails.

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Back to the Drawing Board (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • The team's initial plan didn't work out as expected, so they had to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new strategy.
  • After receiving feedback from users, the developers realized they needed to go back to the drawing board and redesign the user interface.
  • The first prototype of the product didn't meet the requirements, so the engineers had to scrap it and start back at the drawing board.
  • The marketing campaign didn't generate the desired results, so the team had to regroup and go back to the drawing board to create a new approach.
  • Despite putting in a lot of effort, the design didn't meet the client's expectations, and the designers had to start back at the drawing board.
The "drawing board" in this saying refers to an architect's or draughtsman's table, which is used to prepare designs and blueprints. The origin of "back to the drawing board" is well documented and can be traced back to precisely 1 March 1941. Even more specifically, the phrase was first used by the American cartoonist Peter Arno in the cartoon below, which featured in the 1 March 1941 edition of the New Yorker magazine.
Peter Arno's back to the drawing board cartoon, New Yorker 1941
The caption reads "Well, back to the old drawing board." The cartoon depicts a crashed military plane with the pilot having bailed out. It features uniformed military personnel running towards the plane, while the engineer, carrying a roll of blue prints under his arm, walks away to start the redesign. Arno's caption was popularized during World War II, when many projects and missions inevitably did not work out as planned.

Somewhat ironically, "back to the drawing board" often carries positive overtones in recognition of the eventual route to success being narrowed down.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.