The lack of a clear correlation between design and protection continues to present a barrier to progress in vaccine research. In this article, we outline how surface plasmon resonance (SPR) biosensors are emerging as tools to help resolve some of the key biophysical determinants of protection and, thereby, facilitate more rational vaccine design campaigns. SPR technology has contributed significantly to our understanding of the complex biophysical determinants of HIV neutralization and offers a platform for preclinical evaluation of vaccine candidates. In particular, the concept of reverse-engineering HIV vaccine targets based on known broadly neutralizing antibody modalities is explored and extended to include other infectious diseases, such as malaria and influenza, and other diseases such as cancer. The analytical capacity afforded by SPR includes serum screening to monitor immune responses and highly efficient quality-control surveillance measures. These are discussed alongside key technological advances, such as developments in sample throughput, and a perspective predicting continued growth and diversification of the role of SPR in vaccine development is proposed.