Back to the Drawing Board is a popular idiomatic expression, used after confronting a major setback, that forces someone to reassess their position and start planning from the beginning.
It is similar to the phrase Back to Square One, which is also used for situations which force someone to get back to the basics of planning.
“Back to the Drawing Board” originates from a comic strip, but it grew so popular that it can be encountered in everyday conversations, as well as reaction memes and GIFs.
Although the sentence can be encountered in older publications, such as the 1889 issue of the Annual British Photography Journal, the origins of “Back to the Drawing Board” can be tied to the one-panel comic strip of Peter Arno, published in the March 1st issue of The New Yorker magazine in 1941.
The comic depicts a crashed airplane, with everyone rushing toward it, except for a suspicious man, rubbing his hands and holding plans. In the distance, a figure is parachuting down, suggesting that a murder attempt has failed against him.
The popular use of the phrase “Back to the Drawing Board” originates from this strip, and has become so popular in the United States, that it has turned into an idiomatic catchphrase for starting again from scratch.
Since the 1940s, “Back to the Drawing Board” has been a commonly used expression in the US, as well as the United Kingdom. It is especially prevalent among graphics, architects and other professions, which involve planning, sketching, or a drawing board in general.
Today, “Back to the Drawing Board” remains a popular alternative for saying Back to Square One, and is likely to be encountered upon confronting major setbacks.
Since the mass availability of the internet, it can also be seen on reaction image macros and GIFs, coming to terms with a humorous attitude – something the phrase has always been good for.