The phrase back to the drawing board is used to indicate that an idea, scheme or proposal has been unsuccessful and that a new one must be devised.
The New Yorker of 1st March 1941 published a cartoon by Peter Arno (Curtis Arnoux Peters, Jr – 1904-68), showing a smouldering airplane which has just crashed head first into the ground. In the background, the pilot is coming down by parachute. Service personnel are looking on in horror or rushing forward while a civilian designer, a rolled-up engineering plan under his arm, is walking away, saying:
Well, back to the old drawing board.
The following cartoons were also published in The New Yorker during the same period:
Now that’s enough! Run along!
You’re making a grave mistake, Miss Loesch. We Scoutmasters are not entrusted with military secrets.
Maybe after this you’ll realize that when I say I’m going to dive, I mean it. Now go below and dry yourself.
Well, what’s the excuse this time?
Never mind the damned cake! Where are the reporters?
You never can tell what they’re thinking, can you?
Well, if you ever need us again just give us a ring.