What Does Back to the Drawing Board Mean?

Back to the Drawing Board Meaning

Definition: Time to start all over.

Typically, this idiom is used as a standalone phrase rather than as part of a sentence. Usually, someone says this after a plan has failed and they need to start over from the very beginning.

Origin of Back to The Drawing Board

A drawing board is a tool used by artists or architects as a kind of table on which to draw their art or their plans. If their drawing or schematics failed, they would have to go back to the drawing board to make a new plan, starting fresh.

This idiom originated in the 1940s, and its first written use is attributed to an artist named Peter Arno,
who put the expression in his comic strip.

Examples of Back to The Drawing Board

at the drawing boardThe below example demonstrates the idiom being used by two high-school students who are working on a project.

Lisa: I am almost done with this PowerPoint. Finally!

Jackie: Oh no, I have terrible news.

Lisa: Why? What happened?

Jackie: I just got a text from Lacey. She said that the teacher just changed the assignment. We can’t use PowerPoint now.

Lisa: Are you kidding me? If we can’t use PowerPoint, we can’t use any of the things we’ve prepared. We’d have to start all over!

Jackie: I know. Back to the drawing board!

More Examples

go back to drawing board meaningIn this example of the expression, a group decided that their project was so controversial that they had to abandon their current plan and start over again with a completely new plan.

  • The Railroad Commission has been reviewed three times in the past six years, but some recommendations proved so controversial that the Legislature sent the Sunset panel back to the drawing board. –Houston Chronicle

The second news excerpt shows the expression being used in the context of sports. A sports team keeps losing its coaches, and they’ve just lost another. They have to start their search for a new coach all over again.

  • So, once again, the 49ers will find themselves back to the drawing board. And it’ll cost them: As Adam Schefter noted on Sports Center this morning, between Kelly, Tomsula and their various assistants, they’ve burned $69 million on head coaches.  –USA Today


The phrase back to the drawing board means to start all over from the beginning, usually after the original plan failed.