Move over Beetle, move over iMac. A humble dishwashing brush has joined the ranks of high design.

The Soap Pump Palm Brush, a neat little kitchen clean-up tool that dispenses its own detergent, has won one of 36 gold medals awarded by the Industrial Designers Society of America. The gadget, introduced a year ago by OXO International, holds liquid soap and releases it at the push of a button in its ergonomically designed top.

"The thing I think is cool is that it is one of those kind of products from the world of the mundane," said Tom Dair, president of Smart Design, the New York company that created the brush. "It's really neat looking, and it works."

Revel in form and function as you lather the cat bowl. The Soap Pump Palm Brush retails for a mere $4.99. And it leaves one hand free. Maybe that's why 193,854 of them have been sold in a year.

The annual Industrial Design Excellence Awards, known as IDEAs, recognize the sleekest new products coming to market. Gold Award winners ranged from Nissan's Sport Utility Truck (described by the jury as "an interesting next step for the SUV") to a major kitchen appliance, the dishwasher in a drawer introduced last year by Fisher & Paykel of New Zealand.

The DishDrawer won praise for accommodating flexible response. Two drawers equal the capacity of a regular model but allow more choices and greater efficiency. For instance, delicate glassware can be washed safely in one drawer, while pots and pans go through a tougher cleaning cycle in another. Or, for small loads, wash up with less energy and water than a full-sized model would use. It has become a favorite of kitchen and interior designers, according to Rick Harris of Washington's ABD Appliance Distributors, where a single drawer starts at $949.

Housewares are winning gold in a super-competitive lineup of consumer products. Even plastic clothespins, by EKCO, were ranked right up with the iMAC computer.

In the absence of any national design awards, the IDEA contest stands alone in designating bright ideas. This year, 1,131 designs were entered in 47 categories ranging from cars to museum exhibitions. Designers will pick up their prizes on July 17, when IDSA holds its annual convention in Chicago. Winning designs are online at The group is based in Great Falls.

In some ways, second-place winners were more stylish. A Silver Award went to the Michael Graves toaster, made by Black & Decker for Target Stores. Another went to the nylon mesh fruit bowls, called Raybowls, made by New Yorker Sandy Chilewich, once a partner in the Hue stocking business. Raybowls were snapped up by museum stores including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Museum of Modern Art Store ( Another silver winner was a salad spinner, also from the ergonomic specialists at OXO.

"The quality of design for consumer products continues to reach higher and higher levels," said jury chairwoman Katherine J. McCoy, "proving that distinguished design is not just for the elite."

One Silver Award winner still has room for improvement: A grocery shopping cart created for television was heralded as a "concept." It came from the California group IDEO, designer of the new Palm V personal organizer.

Viewers of "Nightline" may recall IDEO's shopping cart from a broadcast last February. The program tracked designers as they addressed a problem as they would for a client. In this case, their goal was to make a cart safer for children, more hospitable to perishables, less prone to theft and easy to maintain.

Their solution, modular plastic baskets on wheels, got as far as the IDEO lobby in Palo Alto, according to spokesman Scott Underwood. "It represented five days of work. It's not the sort of thing that's ready to hit the market."

Not so Palm V, unveiled this spring to high praise for sleek styling. Underwood called it "a great triumph of design" because it transformed a functional object into "an accessory in their lives."

Like a new pair of sunglasses, a designer toaster, or even a self-sudsing kitchen brush.

"A designer's whole life is understanding what's just in the future of cool," he said, "and delivering it."

CAPTION: At left: Self-sudsing Soap Pump Palm Brush from OXO International. Above, Sandy Chilewich's nylon mesh "Raybowls."

CAPTION: EKCO's updated plastic clothespin.

CAPTION: IDEO's concept for a better shopping cart.