Waveguide-based biochemical sensors exploit detection of target molecules that bind specifically to a functionalized waveguide surface. For optimum sensitivity, the waveguide should be designed to mediate maximum influence of the surface layer on the effective refractive index of the guided mode. In this paper, we define a surface sensitivity metric which quantifies this impact and which allows to broadly compare different waveguide types and integration platforms. Focusing on silicon nitride and silicon-on-insulator (SOI) as the most common material systems, we systematically analyze and optimize a variety of waveguide types, comprising simple strips, slot and double slot structures, as well as sub-wavelength gratings (SWG). Comparing the highest achievable surface sensitivities, we provide universal design guidelines and physically interpret the observed trends and limitations. Our findings allow to select the appropriate WG platform and to optimize sensitivity for a given measurement task.