This paper presents a heuristic building block for wind farm layout optimization algorithms. For each pair of wake-interacting turbines, a vector is defined. Its magnitude is proportional to the wind speed deficit of the waked turbine due to the waking turbine. Its direction is chosen from the inter-turbine, downwind, or crosswind directions. These vectors can be combined for all waking or waked turbines and averaged over the wind resource to obtain a vector, a “pseudo-gradient”, that can take the role of gradient in classical gradient-following optimization algorithms. A proof-of-concept optimization algorithm demonstrates how such vectors can be used for computationally efficient wind farm layout optimization. Results for various sites, both idealized and realistic, illustrate the types of layout generated by the proof-of-concept algorithm. These results provide a basis for a discussion of the heuristic's strong points – speed, competitive reduction in wake losses, and flexibility – and weak points – partial blindness to the objective and dependence on the starting layout. The computational speed of pseudo-gradient-based optimization is an enabler for analyses that would otherwise be computationally impractical. Pseudo-gradient-based optimization has already been used by industry in the design of large-scale (offshore) wind farms.