Multilayer cantilever beams are used in the measurement of near-field radiative heat transfer. The materials and dimensions of the cantilever probe are chosen in order to improve system performance in terms of sensitivity and noise. This is done using an analytical model that describes the thermo-mechanical and mechanical behavior of the cantilever and its influences at the system level. In the design, the optical reflectance and the sensitivity of cantilever rotation to the heat input are maximized under constraints for thermal noise, temperature drift, and a lower bound for the spring constant. The analytical model is verified using finite element analysis, which shows that the effects of radiative losses to the environment are insignificant for design purposes, while the effects of ignoring three-dimensional heat flow introduces larger errors. Moreover, the finite element analysis shows that the designed probes are up to 41 times more sensitive than the often used commercial-of-the-shelf benchmark and have a four times lower thermal noise. Experimental validation of the designed probes shows good agreement with the theoretical values for sensitivity. However, the most sensitive designs were found to be susceptible to damage due to overheating and carbon contamination.